Belgium yet to prove credentials as Hungary await
Concerned about the pressure on his team, the coach hinted that he would rather face one of the heavyweights
The Euro 2016 draw has opened up for Belgium, but Marc Wilmots’ side are still to confirm their title credentials before their round of 16 match against undefeated Hungary on Sunday.
Belgium finished second in Group E after an opening defeat by Italy, but Wilmots refuses to see it as a blessing in disguise, even if the draw means they will avoid Spain, Germany, France, England and the Italians until the final.
Concerned about the pressure on his team, the coach hinted that he would rather face one of the heavyweights.
“These are games in which you have nothing to lose,” he told reporters. “Matches like we played against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup are nicer.
“In this Euro there are no easy games, no small teams,” he added. “They criticized us for losing to Wales (during qualification) and look where they are now.”
Belgium’s prospects have improved with the draw - bookmaker William Hill has slash their championship odds from 11/1 to 11/2 - but Wilmots is yet to prove he can make the most of his talented squad.
They were outworked and out thought against Italy, but romped to victory against Ireland in perhaps the best performance yet by this collection of talented players.
Despite Wilmots’ bullish response to critics after this match, hopes Belgium had turned the corner were deflated when they again lacked fluency against Sweden.
Wilmots insisted Belgium had grown since their opener, but conceded that there was still much to improve.
Euro 2016 joint top scorers Hungary may have a taste for blood after giving Portugal an almighty scare in a 3-3 draw on Wednesday, but they will face a sterner test from a Belgium defense eyeing a third straight clean sheet.
That thrilling game also exposed Hungary’s defensive deficiencies and they should provide Belgium with ample opportunity to rediscover the attacking coherency they demonstrated against Ireland.
For that match, the introduction of Mousa Dembele was decisive in providing midfield mobility that had previously been lacking, although an ankle knock picked up in that match may mean Radja Nainggolan again partners Axel Witsel.
Hungary coach Bernd Storck has demonstrated an admirable tactical flexibility, giving all of his 20 outfield players some action and has hinted at more changes for Sunday’s match.
Adam Lang will likely continue at right back with Attila Fiola injured and attacking midfielder Zoltan Gera should return after being injured against Portugal.