Hazard set for first action of season in qualifier

BRUSSELS: Eden Hazard could be included in Belgium’s line-up for Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar even though he has yet to play this season, said coach Roberto Martinez on Tuesday.

The Chelsea midfielder was a surprise selection for the Group H qualifiers against Gibraltar this week and Greece next Tuesday after surgery on his ankle, injured on international duty in June.

His club manager, Antonio Conte, last week criticised the call-up as “a mistake” but Hazard trained with the Belgian squad on Tuesday in Tubeke and afterwards Martinez told reporters he was considering fielding the 26-year-old on Thursday.

“He’s got two training sessions in his legs now and there has been no adverse reaction to the injury. We are evaluating the situation further on Wednesday and we’ll make a decision on Thursday.

“Eden says he is feeling good but we must take into account the fact he has not played for a while.

"The match against Gibraltar seems to me an ideal opportunity for him to play. But we must take it step-by-step and if he plays 90 minutes against Gibraltar, then he won’t play against Greece,” Martinez said.

Belgium host Gibraltar in Liege and then go to Athens to meet Greece.

Victory in the two games could see ensure top spot for Belgium in their group and secure a place at next year’s finals in Russia.

They lead the standings with 16 out of a possible 18 points, four ahead of second-placed Greece.