Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said he is concerned aggressive targeting of Eden Hazard by opposition defenders could lead to his side losing their captain and star player at the World Cup.
Belgium ran out 3-0 winners over tournament new boys Panama in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, with Dries Mertens opening the scoring before Romelu Lukaku netted twice.
Chelsea star Hazard set up Lukaku’s second goal, as the Red Devils overcame a difficult first half in the Group G encounter.
But the game was also marked by some tough challenges, with five Panama players booked by the Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe.
“It is a worry that in any of those tackles he could really get hurt,” said Martinez.
“It doesn’t worry me if that is a way of trying to stop him. Everyone is allowed to prepare games in the way that you can. It is very much allowed and that is part of the rules, and you could run a risk of getting a player sent off.
“My worry is that maybe in one of those tackles, we are going to lose the opportunity to enjoy the quality of a player like Eden Hazard.
“That is not just for him, that goes for any player who has got the natural ability of wanting to take players on. I hope we get lucky in that respect.” Hazard himself said that he had taken a “little kick” in the first half but said it was nothing serious.
He added “we will see the best of Eden Hazard maybe later”, in an ominous warning to Belgium’s future group-stage opponents, Tunisia and England. Panama’s next opponents will be the English in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday, but the Central American side’s coach Hernan Dario Gomez played down suggestions that they might have been overly physical in their approach.
“We are a team who try to get forward. Sometimes we might appear more brusque than others, but other sides get stuck in as well,” said the Colombian.
“We have no bad intentions. We don’t go out to injure anyone. We are strong, but so are England.