The meeting between France and Belgium in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup will be a special occasion for Eden Hazard, who will face his adopted country when he leads the Red Devils out at the Krestovsky Stadium on Tuesday.
The Chelsea midfielder idolised Zinedine Zidane as a kid and moved to France at the age of 14 to join the academy at Lille, where he would go on to make his professional debut at 16 in November 2007.
The precocious talent of the young Hazard did not pass unnoticed at Clairefontaine, the France Football Federation’s elite forming school, and overtures were made to try and persuade him to represent his adopted country.
Hazard: "I feel 99 percent Belgian and one percent French"
Despite his affection for France and his love of Zidane, Hazard opted to play for the country of his birth. On Tuesday, he will attempt to guide Belgium to a first World Cup final in the nation’s history at the expense of Les Bleus.
“Because of the seven years I spent in France I feel 99 percent Belgian and one percent French, but the idea of taking French nationality never crossed my mind” Hazard once said when asked about the possibility.
France’s loss was Belgium’s gain and Hazard was in excellent form as Belgium upset the odds to beat Brazil in the quarter-finals. Now he will attempt to end the Red Devils’ wait for a major tournament victory with his adopted country standing in the way.