The winner of this last-16 tie will face either Wales or Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 quarter-final.
Bernd Storck’s Hungary have been granted a massive test against De Rode Duivels for achieving the unlikely feat of finishing top of Group F. Marc Wilmot’s Belgium meanwhile look like the strongest team on this side of the knockout seedings, despite making a slow start to the summer tournament.
Belgium were in danger of becoming one of the flops of the tournament after their tepid performance against Italy. The Red Devils’ wealth of attacking options was blunted by Italy’s defensive coordination in an opening day 2-0 defeat. Inspired by a Romelu Lukaku brace, Belgium went on to lift the pressure on themselves with an emphatic 2nd half display to dispatch Republic of Ireland 3-0. Axel Witsel chipped in with the other, his third goal at major tournaments.
In their final group game, returning midfielder Radja Nainggolan spoilt Sweden’s farewell to skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a 25-yard strike to take all three points in a 1-0 victory and wrap up 2nd place in Group E.
Hungary opened their Euro 2016 account with a 2-0 victory over Austria. Adam Szalai opened the scoring for the Hungarians on the hour mark before Zoltan Stieber doubled the lead in the closing stages.
In their second game Bernd Storck’s men rescued a point against Iceland after benefitting from an 88th minute own goal. The Magyars have impressed the watching world at the tournament so far with resolute performances built around the creativity of Laszlo Kleinhiesler, Zoltan Gera and skipper Balazs Dzsudzsak.
In their final group game, with progression already secured, it was the skipper Dzsudzsak who impressed most. In the 3-3 draw with Portugal he scored twice, albeit with the help of some fortunate deflections. The ever-impressive Magyars had led three time during the game after a Zoltan Gera half-volley had broken the deadlock on 19 minutes.
Belgium have met Hungary a total of 12 times in the history of the game and have won eight, drawn two and lost two.
The two nations last met in 2009 in an international friendly fixture held in Ghent. Dick Advocaat’s Belgium team ran out 3-0 victors with goals from Marouane Fellaini, Thomas Vermaelen and Kevin Mirallas. The former of the two goal scorers are in the De Rode Duivel’s squad at Euro 2016 while Gabor Kiraly, Roland Juhasz and Balazs Dzsudzsak all appeared for the Hungarians.
The two teams have met at major tournaments twice in the past. In the 1982 World Cup the pair drew 1-1 in the group stages, Hungary were eliminated while Belgium progressed. At the 1972 European Championship Belgium defeated Hungary 2-1 on home turf in the 3rd place play off in Liege.
Bern Storck managed achieved the unforeseeable feat of guiding his side to the top of Group F while still managing to find the time to rest Laszlo Kleinheisler and Adam Nagy in the final group game.
For the Belgium game it is likely that the aforementioned players will return to the side to join skipper Balazs Dzsudzsak, Zoltan Gera and either Zoltan Steiber or Krisztian Nemeth in midfield. Meanwhile Adam Szalai is likely to start as the focal point of the Magyars attack, ahead of Tamas Priskin.
Defensively at Euro 2016 Hungary are yet to deploy the same defensive unit in any of their three matches. However, it is predicted that Roland Juhasz will partner Richard Guzmics while Adam Lang and Tamas Kadar fill the flanks.
Hungary will have little expectation of reaching the quarter-finals with a win against Belgium but it is important to note that they have seven players on a yellow card.
The mastermind of Hungary’s success, coach Bernd Storck, said he was delighted that his team made history by progressing to the last-16.
“I think it’s a dream for the whole of Hungary, I’m speechless,” Storck said. “The fans really supported us in the two previous games, but today it was even better.
Adding: “We [Hungary] had a very good history in the 1950s and 60s but this is a bygone era and I want to talk about this team who earned their berth in the Euro 2016 knockout stages.”
“This team deserves we talk about them. They deserve to be spoken about.”
Storck was also impressed by senior player Zoltan Gera, who scored the opening goal against Portugal with a long-range strike from outside the box. He said: “I actually wanted to rest him. He’s 37! It was a world-class performance from him.”
Predicted Line Up: Gabor Kiraly; Adam Lang, Richard Guzmics, Roland Juhasz, Tamas Kadar; Adam Nagy, Zoltan Gera, Balazs Dzsudzsak, Laszlo Kleinheisler, Krisztian Nemeth; Adam Szalai.
In the last two games it appears that Marc Wilmots has found his best team. After two wins the former international appears to have finally settled on a 4-2-3-1 with two defensive midfielders, two wingers and a central playmaker behind a striker.
The team is nearly able to pick itself bar two sticking points. The main absentee should be Marouane Fellaini. The Manchester United midfielder started in the 2-0 defeat to Italy but now finds himself way back in the pecking order behind Axel Witsel, Radja Nainggolan and Moussa Dembele. The latter of which will face a race to be fit in time to play the Hungarians and replace Nainggolan.
Lukaku’s two goals against Italy will still be enough to keep him spot in the side as center forward while Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard offer supporting roles.
Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen have kept two clean sheets in the trot now and will have Jan Vertonghen at right-back for company. Meanwhile Thomas Meunier appears to have won the internal battle with Laurent Ciman for the left-back spot.
Meunier, Witsel, Vermaelen and Vertonghen all tread the tightrope of entering the last-16 on a booking.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots sent out a warning to sides who might try to attack agaisnt his team in the knockouts saying that, like Sweden, sides that go on the front foot “will be punished.”
“They [Sweden] were obliged to open up and if you do that against us you will be punished,” said Wilmots. “Six points from nine is very good and since the defeat by Italy we have got better, we’ve kept two clean sheets in a row.”
“People thought we were dead after the first game but we are back on track and we have come through a very difficult group,” added Wilmots whose side finished second in Group E, behind Italy.
Belgium’s players were more cautious than their coach.
“Hungary will be tough. We saw the last minutes of their game against Portugal,” said Eden Hazard. “They give 200 per cent and have very good players. We need another good performance to qualify for the quarter-finals.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois agreed that Hungary, initially seen as outsiders to reach the knockouts, would be hard work.
“The last 16 is really open. But they’re all difficult countries to beat. We cannot think that it will be an easy match,” he said.
Predicted Line Up: Courtois; Meunier, Vermaelen, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Witsel, Dembele, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku.