Belgium captain Eden Hazard has denied there is a rift in the squad but said frank words were exchanged between the players following their surprise 2-0 World Cup Group F loss to Morocco on Sunday.
Hazard was speaking to the media along with experienced goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on Tuesday after they replaced the players originally scheduled to talk, Yannick Carrasco and Arthur Theate.
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It was a move by team management to try to quell growing speculation that a number of players have fallen out.
“We had a good talk among the players,” Hazard said. “A lot has been said. We talked for an hour about good things and less good things. Now we want to win against Croatia. We now have two days to prepare. We have to be ready.”
He added: “Nothing happened in the dressing room after the Morocco defeat. Only the manager spoke. Everything said about it is not true. We had a good meeting yesterday between the players and with the technical staff as well. We told each others a lot of things, good and bad.
“Some things might not have been popular with some players but they had to be said. We also said that there was still another game to be played. We have two days to get ready and that’s the most important.”
However, sources have told ESPN words were exchanged between Hazard and Jan Vertonghen after the defeat against Morocco. Kevin De Bruyne also expressed his disappointment after another poor performance.
The argument between Hazard and Vertonghen occurred when the Real Madrid winger told the media on Thursday that the defenders in the team were “old and slow.”
“Jan came to see me and I told him: It is true, you are not as quick as you used to be. And that was it. I still get on with Jan, I have always got on with him. I didn’t have a fight with him. I can’t, he is bigger than me,” Hazard said.
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According to sources, there is a lot of tension within the squad and a number of players are not on speaking terms at the moment.
Courtois, who will earn his 100th cap against Croatia, insisted the reports of a rift in the camp have in fact galvanised the squad.
“The problem is that too many lies are spread. A situation is described that doesn’t exist. As a group, we need to avoid that negativity,” he said.
“Everything was clarified yesterday. Everyone has openly expressed their opinion. Now we have to take action on the field. It’s good that we had a group conversation. We said what we thought to each other.
“We have to be honest with each other and fight for each other on the pitch.”
Information from Reuters was included in this report.
Belgium’s Eden Hazard denies rift within squad after defeat