LOSC Lille Métropole attacker Eden Hazard told UEFA.com he is thrilled to be featuring for the first time in "the ultimate competition for a football player" as the French champions take on PFC CSKA Moskva in their UEFA Champions League Group B opener.
The Dogues are returning to Europe's top level for the first time since 2006/07, giving Hazard – one of the game's most foremost young talents – further opportunity to shine. "We worked really hard last season to get here," the Belgian international told UEFA.com. "It's a competition many of us have never played in. We'll give everything. It's the ultimate competition for a football player. We'll try to do well."
Lille ended a 57-year wait for the French title last season – their previous triumph coming in 1954 – and Hazard believes that success was the result of steady progress. "For a few years now Lille have reached another level, we are among the top French clubs," he explained. "Last year the strength of our squad made the difference. There were really good individual players, but without a good squad it's worth nothing. It's all about that; there's a great atmosphere with great people seeing each other every day."
The midfielder feels that Rudi Garcia's charges can only improve further from exposure to Group B rivals CSKA, FC Internazionale Milano and Trabzonspor AŞ. "We know we are not going to win this trophy," Hazard said. "
We lack experience, but in order to reach another milestone, we must play against bigger teams – and we will against Inter, CSKA and Trabzonspor.
The 20-year-old is set to make his UEFA Champions League debut against CSKA and, despite his limited European experience, is eager for the opportunity to test himself against the competition's finest. "Inter are just one of the best teams in the world," he added. "They won the Champions League under José Mourinho and that proves how good they are. They play in a great stadium, and it will be difficult, but we are all looking forward to playing over there. CSKA are a Russian club, and it will be a long journey; it's never easy over there. In Turkey it will be the same. Turkish clubs dream of the Champions League and it will be a great atmosphere that will be very difficult for us."
Hazard's side finished eight points clear in Ligue 1 last season, a haul of 68 goals the best in the French top flight, and their No10 has no hesitation in revealing whose example the club follows. "Barcelona are a model for everyone nowadays, they're the best team in the world by far," he explained. "It shows that you don't need to be tall and strong; if you are small and have skills you can make it. We try to reproduce what they are doing. Although we have more waste in our game, that team influence us a lot."
While acknowledging his side have a long way to go to match the achievements of a team who have won two of the last three editions of the UEFA Champions League, Lille have made a solid start to their defence of the Ligue 1 crown, recovering from taking one point from their first two games to win the last three. "It's only the beginning of the league but we have started well compared to how we did in the past," said Hazard, who was voted 2010/11 player of the season in France. "We beat Marseille, and we've won two or three good games. We've showed some quality and we'll try to carry on like that.
"We'll see how it goes in the Champions League. We want to go as far as possible in this competition and we have the right skills. We lack a bit of experience but Joe Cole has joined us and [Mickaël] Landreau is experienced as well.
Teams are following us a bit more closely; there's an extra defender on us now. We are trying to play like we did last year. So far we have achieved some good results, and we'll see how it goes. You must adapt; maybe we'll have to play a bit more simply and be more clinical."
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