Belgium finally arrived at Euro 2016 with a convincing 4-0 win against Hungary in the last 16 knockout round. The FIFA ranked number two team had almost stuttered through the group stage. This though was footballing display that backed up their credentials as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
Marc Wilmots retained the line up that proved successful in the previous game against Sweden apart from one change. Dries Mertens, who made an impact when coming on as sub in that game, started in place of Yannick Carrasco. Thomas Meunier continued at right back and Radja Nainggolan was in central midfield again in the absence of injured Mousa Dembele. Romelu Lukaku played in the lone striker role in attack.
Belgium started the game with more pace than they have shown so far in this tournament. And with more attacking intent. Perhaps knowing that they were in the more favourable half of the knockout draw may have motivated them. There seemed a belief in their play that they were destined for the final. Something that was missing from their play before.
The breakthrough came early. On ten minutes Toby Alderweireld met Kevin de Bruyne’s free kick perfectly and headed beyond Gabor Kiraly in the Hungary goal. In what proved to be a very open first half there were chances at both ends. Belgium had the better of these and should really have gone in at half time more than one goal up. Lukaku and Mertens had chances in open play and De Bruyne saw an excellent free kick tipped on to the bar by Kiraly.
After the restart Hungary came into the game more. Both Dzsudzsak and Pinter had chances to equalise. Belgium maintained their forward momentum and kept pressing for the second goal. Eden Hazard who was excellent in the first half continued to pull the strings for Belgium. In the 76th minute Michy Batshuayi made his first appearance in the tournament as a replacement for Lukaku. Batshuayi has been the subject of much transfer speculation this off season and it is no wonder as to why. Within two minutes he latched on to an Eden Hazard cross and made it 2-0.
The pressure was now totally off for Belgium and with Hungary pressing for a goal to get back in to the game, Belgium’s counter attacking capabilities continued to be a threat. Hazard made it 3-0 with a sweet strike from outside the area on 79 minutes. Carrasco, who had come on for Mertens on 70 minutes, scored Belgium’s fourth goal in stoppage time.
Although Belgium showed what they are indeed capable of in this game, they were helped by Hungary’s tactics. Hungary played an open game of football and Belgium welcomed this approach. There were many spaces on the pitch for Belgium to exploit and they enjoyed too much freedom throughout the game. Hazard in particular relished the openness of the play and the spaces available for him to attack. He was without question the man of the match in this game.
Belgium now face Wales in the quarter finals. It is safe to assume that Wales will not be as accommodating to Belgium as Hungary were. Indeed Wales style of play is akin to that of Italy and Belgium lost against the Italians in their opening game. Belgium have struggled to open up teams that have defended as a unit and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the Welsh. It is likely to be a very close encounter and Gareth Bale will be a player that the Belgians will need to keep an eye on.
For now though it is another step closer to the final and The Red Devils will be focusing on that.