Euro 2016

Belgium jittery at being favoured to beat Hungary

Above: Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak scored twice in their 3-3 draw against Portugal, and will be a key threat to Belgium. Left: Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly limbers up before their training session. The 40-year-old has conceded four goals so f
Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak scored twice in their 3-3 draw against Portugal, and will be a key threat to Belgium. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly limbers up before their training session. The 40-year-old has conceded four goals so far in Euro 2016.
Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly limbers up before their training session. The 40-year-old has conceded four goals so far in Euro 2016.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

ROUND OF 16

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TOULOUSE • Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has warned against taking Hungary for granted, as they face an ambitious, modern-day version of the "Magical Magyars" looking to book their quarter-final place at Euro 2016 tonight.

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 the 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... 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."

A recurring theme at these championships, which saw the number of teams increased from 16 to 24 with four third-placed group finishers joining the top two in the last 16, has been the emergence of traditionally smaller teams.

While Belgium have struggled 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 their nation.

German coach Bernd Storck's men sealed their place in the last 16 after a 3-3 draw against Portugal, a see-saw thriller that Cristiano Ronaldo called "insane".

Hungary's encouraging campaign 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.

Led by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, Hungary lost just one match between 1950 and 1956 - the 1954 World Cup final to West Germany.

Needless to say, the current side still have a lot to live up to if they are to exceed the achievements of their mighty predecessors.

As Storck admitted earlier this week: "The shadow of the past is huge over Hungarian football."

Still, they are only 90 minutes away from the last eight and Wilmots added: "Forget what it says on paper, only what happens on the pitch counts."

The coach hinted that he would rather face one of the heavyweights, saying: "These are games in which you have nothing to lose.

"Matches like we played against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup are nicer. I'd rather play Spain or England, as we would have less to lose."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Belgium jittery at being favoured to beat Hungary'. Print Edition | Subscribe