Eden Hazard has always been a brilliant talent, and in the round of 16 against Hungary he showed just how good he can be with a sublime individual performance. The stand-in Belgian captain finished the game with a goal and an assist, but his performance went beyond the raw figures. He was too good for Hungary, weaving through the defence with ease and distributing the ball wherever he wanted to. He made solid, incisive runs through the Hungarian defence. He moved quickly on the counter-attack without compromising on control. It was the performance of a maestro, a player in complete control over himself and his opponents.
At first it was Kevin de Bruyne doing the work for Belgium. It was de Bruyne who was running the show in the centre of the field, and it was de Bruyne who was getting the best chances. It was de Bruyne’s free kick which set up Toby Alderweireld for Belgium’s first goal, a curling ball which perfectly exploited a weak spot in the Hungarian defence. Gabor Kiraly had been good, but he had no chance when Alderweireld placed his header in the top corner.
After the goal the game opened up for the Belgians, and Hazard was able to transition the ball between defence and attack. He never looked like being tackled, keeping the ball very close to his feet and suggesting that a foul was the best way to dispossess him. Hungary were looking for an equaliser, but Belgium looked more threatening on the break and were the team who looked most likely to score.
If Hazard hadn’t fully imposed himself on the first period of the match, the second half was where he showed his class. He showed early warning signs, breezing past Adam Lang as if the Hungarian right back was not present before unleashing a shot at the top corner. Kiraly was able to make the save. Hungary pushed, and Adam Szalai started to get some great chances. But then Hazard would get the ball and run it to the other side of the field, relieving the pressure. Akos Elek clipped him as he tried to get away; Hungary’s half time substitute was promptly shown a yellow card. Hazard continued to show his skill, weaving past defenders to get the ball to Axel Witsel, who found Radja Nainggolan in a good position. The central midfielder missed.
Roland Juhasz had a pair of great chances for Hungary from set pieces, but he could not convert. They were pushing hard for the equaliser, but the threat of Hazard got bigger and bigger every time he broke away. He was in control when he had the ball, able to use any option or make any pass he wanted with a simple touch. He was at the top of his game. Then he exploded, sealing the game for Belgium and blowing Hungary out of the way.
It started with the assist. A corner from de Bruyne was headed away, and the clearance found Hazard inside the box. He had countless options available to him at this point, with multiple players open and spreading into good positions. He set the play up himself. He took a heavy touch into the box before chasing it up, beating the Hungarian defence for pace and reclaiming the ball in a great position. He played the ball across goal for Michy Batshuayi, who had just entered the game for Romelu Lukaku. The ball passed Kiraly, and Batshuayi was able to tap the ball home to double Belgium’s lead. Then came the goal. Belgium were on the break again moments after Batshuayi’s goal, and Yannick Carrasco decided to use Hazard as he streamed through the middle of the field. He collected the ball and beat Lang, before weaving through two more defenders and driving the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. Kiraly did not stand a chance, and Hazard’s two minutes of brilliance meant that Hungary didn’t either.
Then the show was over. Hazard was replaced, with Marouane Fellaini coming on to see out the last ten minutes. The game was already done, however, and Carrasco’s injury-time goal was window-dressing, not important to the actual outcome. There were questions about the team heading into this game, but not anymore. Belgium put in a performance that showed why they are number two in the world, and Hazard showed that he is still one of the world’s best players.
Toulouse – Stadium Municipal
Belgium 4 (Alderweireld 10, Batshuayi 78, Hazard 80, Carrasco 90+1)
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Srb)
Hungary (4-2-3-1): Kiraly – Lang, Juhasz (Bode 81), Guzmics, Kadar; Nagy, Gera (Elek 46); Lovrencsics, Pinter (Nikolic 75), Dzsudzsak; Szalai.
Belgium (4-3-3): Courtois – Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, de Bruyne, Nainggolan; Mertens (Carrasco 70), R Lukaku (Batshuayi 76), Hazard (Fellaini 81).
1. Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Hazard was at the top of his game throughout, looking in complete control whenever he had possession and causing massive problems for the Hungarian defence. He beat opponents with ease, and his goal was one of extraordinary quality. His brilliant individual play set up Batshuayi for Belgium’s second, and he was head and shoulders above the rest.
2. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
Hazard may have been the best on the field, but it was de Bruyne who was pulling the strings in the opening minutes of a fine individual performance. He set up Alderweireld for the opening goal, and he distributed the ball effectively and calmly. He looked in control, and his combination with Hazard was a highlight for the Belgians.
3. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Lukaku was a strong presence up front throughout, and he was able to put plenty of teammates into good positions with effective passes. He could have scored a couple of times, and his work playing the ball through the Hungarian defence on the break caused a lot of problems. He made life very difficult for Hungary, and he was able to open the game up for Belgium.
4. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Courtois had a strong game in goal, and the Belgian win would not have been as comfortable without his performance. He made some great saves to deny Hungary, and showed his ruthlessness when he made a brilliant diving save to deny Akos Elek with the score at 3-0. He made some great saves, and will be very pleased with his performance.
5. Radja Nainggolan (Belgium)
Nainggolan was everywhere for Belgium, and he was able to find the ball often and use it well. His effort was exceptional, and he covered plenty of distance in a strong performance. He helped out the attack well by roaming forward, and he was too good for Hungary in the middle, ensuring that Belgium were able to dominate.