Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has warned against taking Hungary for granted when they face an ambitious modern-day version of the ‘Magical Magyars’ looking to book their quarter-final place at Euro 2016 on Sunday. (RESULTS | STANDINGS)
While Belgium have failed to live up to their status as the world’s second-best ranked team, Hungary’s feats at their first international tournament for three decades have inspired a nation.
German coach Bernd Storck’s men sealed their place in the last 16 with a stunning 3-3 draw that Portugal’s two-goal hero Cristiano Ronaldo called ‘insane’.
Hungary, whose last major finals appearance came at the 1986 World Cup, finished top of Group E to join a host of other nations who have punched above their weight to reach the knockout phase.
Packed with stars like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fallaini of Manchester United and Axel Witsel from Zenit St Petersburg, Belgium fans would be forgiven for expecting their team to go far.
But any Euro success hinges on Monday’s knockout clash in Toulouse, and Wilmots was quick to dispel any thoughts the Red Devils will have it easy.
“Have you not been watching the European Championships?” he said when asked about the threat of Hungary.
“Did you see the Hungarians against Portugal? Balazs Dzsudzsak, Adam Szalai, Krisztian Nemeth… lots of top players. You (media) were also laughing when Wales beat us (in the qualifiers), but look at where they are now. There are no so-called small countries any more.”
Wales, on their competition debut, cruised into the knockout phase with a 3-0 win over Russia on a night England’s draw with Slovakia pushed Chris Coleman’s side to the top of Group A.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are still hanging on and Iceland have carved open a mouthwatering last 16 clash against England in Marseille.
Hungary’s encouraging campaign, meanwhile, has prompted an audacious comparison with the ‘Magical Magyars’ team that once struck fear into the hearts of Europe’s established sides in the 1950s.