Belgium’s golden generation produced an extremely polished performance to beat Hungary 4-0 and breeze into the quarter finals of Euro 2016, where they will play Wales.
Inspired by the brilliance of Eden Hazard who set-up one goal and scored another in the space of two second half minutes, Belgium delivered their most impressive display of the tournament, despite being wasteful in front of goal.
After Toby Alderweireld headed Belgium ahead from Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick, the game swung from end-to-end and remained evenly poised until the 78th minute when Michy Batshuayi scored a simple tap-in following fine work by Hazard. The Chelsea winger then scored a superb solo goal of his own, before Yannick Carrasco drilled home a fourth Belgian goal after Radja Nainggolan found the Atletico Madrid attacker with a fine through ball.
Rising to the Euro 2016 Challenge
Although in the end Belgium ran out convincing winners, in order to do so they had to resist a significant amount of sustained pressure from the Hungarians in the second half. That showed as well as being a potent attacking force, Les Diables Rouges are also defensively solid.
Also indicative of that is since losing their opening game 2-0 to Italy, Belgium have kept three consecutive clean sheets, scoring eight goals without reply in the process. Prior to beating Hungary Marc Wilmots’ side defeated the Republic of Ireland and Sweden 3-0 and 1-0 respectively.
Golden Generation beginning to shine
Therefore Belgium’s golden generation appear to be on the verge of fulfilling their potential at a major international tournament, particularly given the brilliant form of the mercurially talented Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. The duo were instrumental during the victory over Hungary and were at the heart of many of the devastatingly swift counter attacks which Belgium launched throughout the game. In addition to that both players worked tirelessly, in particular De Bruyne, with Wilmots acknowledging as much of a player who spent ten weeks out injured at the start of this year.
“I have to say, Kevin De Bruyne every time he lost the ball he made the effort to come back and that’s what makes the side strong. When we don’t have the ball, we don’t give away many chances,” said Wilmots who will now prepare his team to face Wales in Lille on Friday.
Wales worthy quarter final opponents
Whilst Belgium’s performance against Hungary was very impressive, Wales produced a similarly excellent counter attacking and defensively sound display to beat Russia 3-0 in their last group stage game which served notice that Chris Coleman’s side are serious contenders to progress to the latter stages of Euro 2016.
Nevertheless a serious hazard stands in Wales’ way of doing that in the form of Eden and his golden generation Belgian colleagues, with the teams having played one another twice during qualification for the finals.
The first of those games finished 0-0 in Brussels, whilst Wales won the return fixture 1-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium courtesy of an expertly taken Gareth Bale goal, which sent the Dragons three points clear at the top of qualification Group B with four games remaining. Despite that Belgium overhauled that deficit to win the group, whilst Wales finished runners-up to qualify for Euro 2016, which they have so far played superbly at.
Although Bale has been instrumental in Wales’ run to the quarter finals – becoming the first player to score in each group stage game since Milan Baros & Ruud Van Nistlerooy did so at Euro 2004, whilst also setting-up his team’s goal in their 1-0 last 16 win over Northern Ireland – that achievement has been founded upon a cohesive, organised and spirited team effort, led by captain Ashley Williams.
Williams and Wales ready to rumble
The Welsh skipper is expected to be fit to face Belgium, despite suffering a shoulder injury against Northern Ireland. Immense throughout that game was Williams’ central defensive partner James Chester, with the pair having defended immaculately throughout the finals.
Ultimately the domineering centre back duo along with the entire Welsh team will undergo their toughest test of the tournament yet when they face Belgium in what is set to be an intriguing encounter between two extremely enterprising and talented sides.