On Sunday 26th June 2016, Euro 2016 was in full swing. The group stages of the highly prestigious tournament, held in France, was a very exciting ride, full of twisters and loop-de-loops. The biggest shock of the group stage was the final standings of group F, in which minnows Hungary and Iceland finished 1st and 2nd respectively, leaving group favourites Portugal having to scrape through to the next round using the slightly confusing 3rd place rule to get through. Austria, who were also tipped to dance through to the next round, ended up bottom of their group after a last second winner for Iceland in their last game sent Iceland into ecstasy, especially one Icelandic commentator, whose incomprehensible shrieking made him a viral sensation on the Internet.
The date mentioned earlier was not just some random date during the Euros, but the date of the last 16 matchup between Hungary, winners of group F, and Belgium, runners up in group E. The winner of this tie would go on to face Wales, who had beaten fellow United Kingdom members Northern Ireland (although perhaps not for much longer after the results of the EU referendum), in the Quarter Finals. Belgium had a shaky start to the competition, losing 2-0 to Italy, but managed to get back on track beating Republic of Ireland 3-0 and capping off the group stages with a 1-0 win over Sweden. Hungary, on the other hand, got off to a flying start, beating Austria 2-0 before drawing 1-1 with Iceland and 3-3 with Portugal, which was the game of the tournament up to that point.
Earlier on in the day, France started with an early scare when Republic of Ireland made it 0-1 after Paul Pogba fouled Shane Long in the box and Robbie Brady slotted home the resulting penalty. The hosts came back in the second half when two Antoine Greizmann goals meant France went through to the Quarter Finals with a 2-1 win. In the other game earlier on in the day, Germany charged through to the next round with a 3-0 win over Slovakia despite Mesut Ozil having a penalty saved by the Slovakian goalkeeper, courtesy of goals from Jerome Boateng, Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler.
The line-ups for the game were:
Hungary: Király, Lang, Juhasz, Guzmics, Kadar, Gera, Lovrencsics, Kleinheisler, Nagy, Dzsudzsak, Szalai
Belgium: Courtois, Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Witsel, Nainggolan, De Bruyne, Mertens, Hazard, R. Lukaku
At 8:00 in the evening, the game kicked off in Toulouse. The first chances of the game weren’t much to behold, with Belgium dominating in the first few minutes. The first shot on target was a low strike from Eden Hazard, that Gábor Király, famous for wearing tracksuit bottoms during matches, saved comfortably. However in the 10th minute of the game, Belgium got the opening goal. De Bruyne whipped in a pinpoint free kick onto the head of Tobey Alderweireld, whose powerful header left Király with no chance. 1-0 Belgium.
Hungary started to balance the game out a bit, while Belgium found their feet after scoring so early. Kevin De Bruyne was sent through on goal by Romelu Lukaku, but shot straight at the keeper. Almost immediately afterwards, the first comedy moment of the game occurred when Thibaut Courtois slipped over when the ball was passed back to him, resulting in a corner for Hungary, which they failed to make use of. Hazard jinked through the defence around the 19th minute and forced a corner, which was eventually cleared. However, Belgium quickly won it back and the ball came to a man just outside the box, who blazed it over the bar. The game was beginning to slow down, but Hungary’s wing wizard Balázs Dzsudzsak hit a low, hard shot that Courtois had to deal with. The game started to fizzle out, with both teams having chances but none of any real significance. De Bruyne had another good chance around the half hour mark that he headed into Király’s thankful arms. Hungary conceded a free kick, resulting in a booking given by match referee Milorad Mazic, that De Bruyne took and Király did well with to tip it onto the bar. Hungary’s Lovrencsics took a long range shot that hit the back pole that holds up the net (I don’t know what they’re called), followed by a shot by Dzsudzsak that fizzed past the post. Seconds later Dries Mertens, Belgiums right winger, hit one that Király stuck out an arm to save. That was the last real chance of the half.
Hungary made the first substitution of the match, with Ákos Elek coming on for an ageing Zoltan Gera. The second half kicked off and immediately Eden Hazard stung the keeper’s hands with a sharp strike on goal after a slaloming run. About 5 minutes later, Adam Szalai struck a wild shot that ended up in the crowd after being sent through on goal. Another 3 minutes passed before the next chance for Hungary, a header that ended up behind for a corner. Hungary were very much still in the game. Belgium won a corner in the 57th minute, that was headed clear but was sent straight back in by Hazard towards Lukaku, who attempted a heel flick and failed to pull it off as he mis-hit the ball and a teammate hit it over the bar. 7 minutes later, Adam Pinter hit a deflected shot that caused trouble for Courtois, but he managed to tip it over the bar. The fans were in full voice, while on the pitch Thomas Vermaelen picked up a yellow card that meant he would miss the next match. Seconds later Hungary’s centre back hit a low shot that grazed the far post on it’s way wide. Yannick Carrasco, Atletico Madrid’s goal scorer in the Champions League final, became Belgium’s first substitute of the evening, coming on for Dries Mertens.
Into the last 20 minutes, Belgium were trying hard to hold on to their lead and perhaps add to it, while Hungary were pushing for a late equaliser to send the game into extra time. Belgium made their second substitution, with Michy Batshuayi coming on for Romelu Lukaku, who had been quite ineffective in the game. In the 78th minute, Michy Batshuayi made an instant impact, scoring with his first touch of the game, and of the tournament, to double Belgium’s lead after Hazard’s fantastic run and cross. 2-0 Belgium. Immediately afterwards, Belgium scored again! This time Eden Hazard, who had been brilliant throughout the game, cut inside from the left wing and unleashed a low strike into the bottom right corner. 3-0 Belgium! Eden Hazard was then instantly taken off, for Marouane Fellaini. Interesting, to say the least.
Hungary were still attacking and got another chance which was hit just wide of the post, but this game was already over. Axel Witsel blocked a free kick that hit him right in the gentleman’s special area, leaving him winded and needing attention. In the 90th minute, Radja Nainggolan sent Yannick Carrasco through on goal and the winger coolly slotted the ball past Király in the Hungarian goal. 4-0 Belgium. Fellaini picked up a late yellow card for elbowing a Hungarian player (surprise, surprise) and the final whistle was blown.
The game finished 4-0 to a dominant Belgium, who are now through to the quarter finals against Wales. My man of the Match is Eden Hazard, who picked up a goal and an assist and was a constant threat to the Hungarian defence. Wales will have to be very good at the back to keep a free-scoring Belgium side at bay.