Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Hungary v Belgium
Hungary v Belgium
Belgium are Europe’s highest-ranked nation but will the Red Devils’ flourishing golden generation live up to their star billing when they face Euro 2016’s surprise package Hungary in Toulouse on Sunday night?
Hungary v Belgium, Sunday 26 June 2016, 20.00, BBC1 & TV3
Marc Wilmots’ men sealed their place in the last-16 on Wednesday night thanks to Radja Nainggolan’s superb 25-yard strike against Sweden.
Following an opening round loss to Italy, It seemed Belgium might start matching the expectations around their talented squad with a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in their second fixture. But the Red Devils laboured against a Swedish outfit that were toothless throughout the campaign.
Nainggolan’s 84th-minute effort was a rare moment of high quality. Wilmots’ starting XI featured six Premier League players and just one change from the win over the Republic but his team again lacked decisiveness in the attacking third.
Kevin de Bruyne was the most industrious option, providing the cross for Thomas Meunier to flash a header wide and putting through Romelu Lukaku for a one-on-one chance which the Everton striker squandered – but they still have plenty of room for improvement.
Nevertheless, Belgium have W6-D2-L0 in the last eight head-to-head contests with Hungary and are heavy pre-match favourites to extend a recent winning streak that consists of 12 triumphs in their most recent 16 outings.
Backers of the Red Devils will be pleased to see the side enter the softer side of the Euro 2016 draw and will be encouraged by their return of back-to-back clean sheets – Belgium had arrived at Euro 2016 without a shutout in eight.
Hungary For More
Meanwhile, having guided his squad to top spot in Group F, Hungary manager Bernd Storck said, “I think it’s a dream for the whole of Hungary – I’m speechless” as the Magyars picked up five points from an unbeaten pool-stage.
Unfancied Hungary have emerged as one of the feel-good stories of the Euros and have advanced from the group stage of a major tournament for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.
They conceded 63.2% of possession to Portugal in a thrilling 3-3 draw last time out but they scored three goals and caused the Iberians’ defence plenty of problems, even though Stock did not play four players on yellow cards.
A shot from Adam Szalai struck the post in a pulsating encounter and although Hungary have been chalked up as outsiders in all three of their games thus far, no nation has scored more than the Magyars’ tally of six at Euro 2016.
Three of those six Hungarian goals arrived from outside the box but the plucky minnows have proven tricky customers. Widely expected to prop up Group F, the Magyars have now lost just twice in their last 15 fixtures – one of which came against world champions Germany – and confidence in the camp is sky high coming into this encounter.
Belgium are fully expected to show their mettle and oust Euro 2016’s surprise package but the Red Devils may need to bide their time before finding a breakthrough. During the 2014 World Cup, four of Belgium’s six goals were scored by substitutes and since Euro 2012, 26 (52%) of their 50 competitive goals have arrived after the 64th minute.
With the Red Devils appearing unable to make early breakthroughs, it may pay to keep Hungary onside, at least in the first-half here.
Although wrongly categorising the side as the worst of the 24 nations pre-tournament, I remain a little unconvinced by Hungary’s overall pedigree.
The Magyars conceded the most goals of the six group winners and 40-year-old Gabor Kiraly – a man more renowned for his jogging bottoms than his shot-stopping ability – is the main man charged with keeping the score down on Sunday.
Belgium have scored two or more goals in six of their last seven victories so I’ll count on the Red Devils delivering the knockout blow after the interval by backing Draw-Belgium at handsome odds of 11/4.
*Prices correct at time of publication