Eden Hazard has hailed the way Marouane Fellaini came on and changed Belgium’s fate against Japan on Monday night.
The Belgian, who recently signed a new two year contract at Manchester United, was introduced in the second half with his country trailing by two goals.
And his direct physicality epitomised a rancorous response from Roberto Martinez’s team after Jan Vertongthen’s goal, netting the equaliser in true Fellaini fashion: with a towering, looming, unstoppable, crashing header.
Speaking after the game, Hazard, who supplied the cross for Fellaini’s goal, remarked how the impact of substitutes was decisive.
“We were thinking it was going to be like two years ago against Wales [when Belgium lost 3-1 in their Euro 2016 quarter-final], but we were also thinking if we can score goals the game is on,” he said.
“We have players that can change a game. We brought players from the bench who made the difference, so today we are just happy to have won and have gone through.”
Fellaini has received another bout of abuse from supporters following his renewal. The anger from supporters, you suspect, stems less from the man himself but rather the symbolism of giving Fellaini – now entering his sixth season at Old Trafford – a new contract at the expense of signing younger, more energetic players. The move reeks of conservatism.
As a player and man, however, Fellaini doesn’t deserve the criticism he gets a lot of the time. He is someone who has, over and over again, scored key goals for United at times when flashier players were nowhere to be seen.
He has scored in three semi-finals – all in three different competitions. He has scored at consecutive World Cups. He has scored against Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in a United shirt. He has, amazingly, saved United more than most players in clutch moments.
And Monday night was just another example. He will need to continue in the same vein if he is to win over supporters, who still wish United had signed a different midfielder.