Eden Hazard

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Hazard makes league debut as Real Madrid beat Levante

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MADRID (AP) The wait was finally over for Eden Hazard, who made his Spanish league debut with Real Madrid in a 3-2 win over Levante on Saturday.

Karim Benzema scored twice and Casemiro added another goal as Madrid picked up its first win after two consecutive draws in the league, including against Valladolid in its first match of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Hazard, Madrid’s top signing since it lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, had missed the first three games because of a thigh injury sustained the day before the opener. The Belgium star came off the bench in the second half, with Madrid 3-1 ahead.

The victory moved Madrid within a point of league leader Atletico Madrid, the only team with three wins after three matches. Atletico visits Real Sociedad later Saturday.

“We couldn’t lose points here again,” said Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a crucial save in stoppage time to preserve the win. “We played well in the first half but couldn’t maintain the same dynamic in the second.”

Levante was coming off two consecutive wins – against Villarreal and Valladolid – after opening with a loss at Alaves.

With Hazard still not up to full speed and Gareth Bale suspended because of a red card, Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane started with Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez flanking Benzema in the attack. Zidane also couldn’t count on Luka Modric, Marco Asensio and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon because of injuries.

Hazard hadn’t played a competitive game since joining from Chelsea in the summer. Madrid acquired the 28-year-old playmaker for a reported fee of nearly 100 million euros (now $111 million) plus add-ons, making him the Spanish club’s most expensive signing ever.

Hazard was loudly cheered by home fans when he entered the match in the 60th, and a few minutes later he nearly scored with a shot that forced a difficult save by Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez.

“Eden already showed what he can do,” Courtois said. “He has the quality to create problems to opponents in the attack.”

Benzema created most of the chances for Madrid early on, and finally opened the scoring with a close-range header in the 25th minute after a well-placed cross by Dani Carvajal. The French striker added to the lead six minutes later with a shot from inside the area after a nice through ball by James Rodriguez.

Casemiro closed the first-half scoring by completing a pass from Vinicius Junior in the 40th.

Levante was able to rally in the second half, with striker Borja Mayoral scoring less than five minutes after halftime and Gonzalo Melero pulling the visitors closer with a header in the 75th. Courtois had to make a difficult save off another header in stoppage time to keep Levante from equalizing.

“Madrid came out giving everything it had, but in the second half we played better and almost scored the equalizer in the end,” said Mayoral, who is playing on loan from Real Madrid and did not celebrate his goal at the Bernabeu.

Benzema almost completed his hat trick when he hit the post in the 57th. Lucas Vazquez had also hit the post in the first half.

Vinicius Junior had a goal disallowed for offside in the 62nd. The Brazilian also missed a clear chance from close range in the 70th.

Madrid visits Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday, then plays at Sevilla in the Spanish league next Sunday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Hazard, Ba wish San Diego club luck ahead of NISA debut

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National Independent Soccer Association side San Diego 1904 FC debuted on Saturday, with some star-studded support.

The Southern California outfit is owned by a pair of Premier League veterans who are in-season with their current clubs and did not make the trek to LA for the first match.

[ MORE: Juve wants De Gea ]

San Diego 1904 FC’s Twitter account displayed messages from owners Demba Ba (Istanbul Basaksehir) and Eden Hazard (Real Madrid) before the match.

NISA has suffered some fits and starts as it looks to establish itself in the North American soccer landscape, but 1904 FC has fire power and there are several well-backed, established clubs coming in Detroit City FC, Chattanooga FC, and Miami FC.

 

Hazard brothers both out of Belgium’s European qualifiers

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BRUSSELS (AP) Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and his brother Thorgan have both withdrawn from Belgium’s squad for upcoming European Championship qualifiers because of injuries.

The Belgium team says the Hazards left the squad after it was determined they weren’t fit to play against San Marino on Friday or Scotland on Monday.

Eden Hazard has a thigh problem and hasn’t played a competitive game for Real Madrid since joining the Spanish club in the summer.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane had expressed frustration that Hazard was joining up with the Belgian team instead of focusing on his recovery.

Borussia Dortmund’s Thorgan Hazard missed his team’s Bundesliga loss to Union Berlin on Saturday with a bruised rib.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Hazard injured, Bale could start as Real opens La Liga play

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After a summer of adding immense talent and spending wild money, the only thing that can get in Real Madrid’s way is Real Madrid.

As usual.

The kings of chaos bring their wildly talented team to La Liga play this weekend, and will have James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale in the fold while Eden Hazard possibly missing through a thigh injury.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Spurs ]

Yes, that’s the same Gareth Bale who managed Zinedine Zidane essentially publicly dismissed from his side. Yeah, the same James who has needed to take loans away from Real to see regular playing time.

Zidane seems to be happy that James is sticking around. As for Bale, well, Zidane seems to be happy that James is sticking around. From Marca.com:

“It seemed like Bale was going to leave, but he is here. I will count on him, just as I will with everyone else who is here. I hope that everyone in the team wants to make life difficult for me [in terms of team selection].

“The team is what it is, and this is the squad I have. The transfer window is open, and things can happen, but what matters now is Saturday’s game and the players that are here now.”

Cool, cool. Sounds like a delightful room.

[ RELATED: Dan Karell’s La Liga season primer ]

Anyway, it may just be Zidane’s demeanor, as he’s been quite a decent player’s coach over the years. It’s a 2.5 horse race as usual there, with Barca going for a 3-peat, Real well-stocked with talent, and Atletico Madrid a possibility as long as one Diego Simeone is setting up the traps.

Let’s do this, Spain.

Shortlist for FIFA’s Best Player of the Year announced

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The 10-man shortlist for FIFA’s Best Player of the Year award has been announced, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Neymar and Luis Suarez missing out.

[ MORE: Coach of Year shortlist ]

Four current Premier League stars feature in the top 10, with Eden Hazard who moved from Chelsea to Real Madrid over the summer also named among the nominees.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane is joined by Liverpool trio Virgil Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane with VVD the favorite to be crowned the top player on the planet as his dominant displays led Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory and within one point of Manchester City in the Premier League. Van Dijk also captained the Netherlands to reach the UEFA Nations League final and led their resrurgence from central defense.

Dutch duo Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, who have both left Ajax this summer for Barcelona and Juventus respectively, are included after their breakout years for club and country, while superstars Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo (who has won the award twice in the past three seasons) and Lionel Messi make up the top 10 based on performances for club and country from 16 July 2018 to 19 July 2019.

Who is the favorite to win this award?

Van Dijk is up there, while Mbappe, Messi and Ronaldo will be among the leading contenders once again. The winner from last year, Luka Modric, isn’t included in the nominees this year and the absence of any players from Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid (not counting Hazard) proves just how difficult it is to narrow this list down to 10 players.

Below is the list in full, as the winner will be announced on Sept. 23 at FIFA’s ceremony in Milan.

Eden Hazard – Chelsea (now Real Madrid) and Belgium
Harry Kane – Tottenham and England
Frenkie de Jong – Ajax (now Barcelona) and Holland
Matthijs de Ligt – Ajax (now Juventus) and Holland
Sadio Mane – Liverpool and Senegal
Kylian Mbappe – PSG and France
Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina
Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus and Portugal
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool and Egypt
Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool and Holland