Man Utd's 'kicking' made it 'impossible for Hazard to play football' - Conte
LONDON -- Antonio Conte praised Eden Hazard's "great character" for enduring 25 minutes of "only kicking" after Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in an ill-tempered FA Cup quarterfinal tie at Stamford Bridge to book a semifinal date with Tottenham at Wembley.
Hazard was fouled on numerous occasions in the early exchanges of Monday's match as United sought to limit his influence, with Phil Jones detailed to man-mark the Belgian and Ander Herrera twice booked for infringements on him in the opening 35 minutes, resulting in the Spaniard's dismissal.
Conte was visibly angered by Hazard's treatment in his technical area, exchanging words with United manager Jose Mourinho on several occasions, and after the match the Chelsea head coach paid tribute to his star winger for not being deterred by United's physical approach to defending him.
"My point of view is this: They've got to play football, and my players want to play football," Conte insisted.
"For 20 or 25 minutes, it was impossible for Hazard to play football. I see only that he got a lot of kicks. I don't think I'm crazy and I see only him in this situation.
"This is my reply to the question. Hazard, for 25 minutes, it was impossible for him to play football. Only kicking.
"He showed great character. Strong character. It's very difficult and dangerous to receive a kick from behind. But he showed great character. I know this. Someone can be surprised by Hazard's character.
"I'm learning to know him very well this season, and I can tell he has a strong character. Today he showed this."
Asked if he felt that United had deliberately set out to kick Hazard, Conte replied: "I don't know. But this tactic, to play by going to kick the opponent, does not exist. It's not football for me. I don't think this can be a tactic. This is the truth.
"Everyone saw this. I think sometimes, when you play against players with great talent, you try and intimidate these players. I think the referee must protect this type of player. Then, [what if] they are put out with a bad injury?"
N'Golo Kante's 25-yard shot on 51 minutes settled the match in Chelsea's favour and set up a semifinal clash with Spurs, where Conte is expecting another difficult test for his team.
"Another strong game against a strong team," he added. "We start with one win for us and one for them [this season]. We are 1-1. It will be an exciting game for the people and our fans. An interesting draw for us. In this phase, Tottenham or Arsenal or [Manchester] City... the level [of the competition] is very high.
"They've shown they are able to beat us because it happened in the 'second leg.' But we've shown we are able to beat them, too. Now we'll see which is the result of this semifinal. It will be an interesting game, very strong for both teams."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.