Eden Hazard dropped for Croatia vs Belgium, but De Bruyne and Vertonghen start

Eden Hazard has been DROPPED for Belgium’s clash with Croatia, although Jan Vertonghen and Kevin De Bruyne both start as Roberto Martinez insists there is no split in the squad… and Romelu Lukaku is back on the bench

Roberto Martinez on Wednesday insisted there was no split in his Belgium squad and today opted to name Kevin de Bruyne and Jan Vertonghen in his starting XI to play Croatia but left out Eden Hazard.

Belgium have endured a difficult tournament in Qatar with star man De Bruyne telling reporters he believed the squad was “too old” to lift the World Cup before the shock 2-0 defeat to Morocco, one that has put them in real danger of miss out on the knockouts.

French newspaper L’Equipe then claimed that De Bruyne, Vertonghen and Hazard clashed in the dressing room after the defeat to Morocco, and reported that Romelu Lukaku had to pull his teammates apart.

Belgium captain Eden Hazard has dropped to the bench for today’s match against Croatia

Jan Vertonghen has been included in Belgium's XI to face Croatia

Kevin de Bruyne is also named in the starting line-up

But Jan Vertonghen (left) and Kevin de Bruyne (right) have both been named in Belgium’s XI

Martinez – who vehemently denied those claims – may have scouted today’s clash against Croatia as a potential opportunity to rest some of his aging players, but that luxury was denied by Morocco last Sunday.

With the loss, Croatia now top the table, but only on goal difference with Morocco just behind – and face an easier test in a pointless Canada.

Belgium has therefore once again chosen its strongest possible line-up, with Vertonghen once again starting alongside his former Tottenham and Ajax partner Toby Alderweireld in central defence.

Lukaku, meanwhile, will make his first start at the World Cup in Qatar after returning from injury, replacing Michy Batshuayi, who started Belgium’s previous two games.

Confirmed Belgium XI: Courtois, Meunier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Castagne, Dendoncker, Witsel, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Trossard, Mertens

Confirmed Croatia XI: Livakovic, Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa, Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic, Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez is staring at the real possibility of an early exit in Qatar

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez is staring at the real possibility of an early exit in Qatar

Belgium need a win to guarantee their progress to the knockouts, with a draw only enough if Morocco lose to Canada, while their goal difference is also three worse.

Croatia, meanwhile, can afford to draw, although just a win will guarantee them top spot in the group.

The team that eventually wins the group will play their round of 16 clash on Tuesday 6 December at the Education City Stadium, kick-off at 3pm. It will be against the Group E runner-up, which is currently Japan.

The team that finishes second in the group, meanwhile, will play the Group E winner – currently Spain – on Monday 5 December again at 15:00, but this time at the Al Janoub Stadium.

More to follow…

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