By William Schomberg
(Reuters) - Belgium s chances of living up to their billing as the dark horses of the World Cup lie in large part at the lightning-fast feet of Eden Hazard.
The 23-year-old has struggled to reproduce for his country the kind of displays for Chelsea that have made him one of Europe s hottest talents.
With Hazard s defence-splitting runs, feints and eye for goal, the ability of the winger to turn matches his team s way has drawn comparisons with the giants of the game such as Christian Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
In a young and talented Belgium side brimming with confidence after qualifying for their first World Cup since 2002, Hazard will be expected to play a key role in creating openings for team mates such as striker Romelu Lukaku.
He is also under pressure to find the net himself.
Heading into the final weeks of the season, Hazard was approaching 20 goals for Chelsea this season. But he has struggled to match that return for Belgium, with just five strikes in 43 appearances for the Red Devils.
Hazard has shown flashes of his club form at national level since coach Marc Wilmots took over in 2012. Wilmots has acted as more of a mentor to Hazard than his more critical predecessor, Georges Leekens.
Wilmots has mixed praise and pressure to try to get the best out of Hazard, including more goals.
It s not enough, Wilmots told a Belgian newspaper in March. I scored 29 goals although I was far less talented. I love Eden, but I m asking him to be more influential.
With striker Christian Benteke ruled out of the World Cup with injury, more responsibility will fall on Hazard to get among the goalscorers when Belgium line up against South Korea, Algeria and Russia in their group matches in Brazil.
The son of a father and mother who both played professional football, Hazard joined Chelsea in 2012 from Lille, where he won French league player of the year in two consecutive seasons.
As well as his pace and balance, which help him drift past defenders, Hazard has added a hard-working defensive side to his game under Chelsea s Jose Mourinho.
He has also learned to control his temper that last flared in early 2013, when he kicked out at a ballboy who was refusing to hand over the ball during a match at Swansea.
In 2011 he stormed off the pitch after being substituted and ended up eating a hamburger from a stall outside the stadium while Belgium were still playing a Euro 2012 qualifying match. The incident earned him a one-match suspension.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; editing by Stephen Wood)
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