Belgium captain Eden Hazard produced an inspired performance, including a fine solo goal, to lead his side to a resounding 4-0 victory over Hungary at Euro 2016 on Sunday and set up a quarter-final clash with Wales.
Hazard, who has finally burst into life at the tournament after a disappointing club season with Chelsea, set up one goal and scored another as Toby Alderweireld, Michy Batshuayi and Yannick Carrasco completed a comfortable victory.
“If he’s feeling good, he’s the best in the world,” Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said of Hazard. ” The only thing we might have done better was kill the match off earlier.”
Belgium dominated the opening stages and took the lead after 10 minutes when Kevin De Bruyne swung an inviting cross into the box where centre back Alderweireld rose at the far post to power a header past keeper Gabor Kiraly.
Substitute Batshuayi tapped home Hazard’s low cross with 12 minutes remaining shortly after coming on before the Belgium skipper cut inside Hungary’s box and rifled home a superb low strike for the third, with Carrasco grabbing a late fourth.
“It was an almost perfect match,” said Hazard. “We scored early and pressed very high up the field. It was what the fans want and what we call a real football match.
“As a team I feel we were really solid today. We made a lot of chances and didn’t give them too many,” he added.
Hungary coach Bernd Storck praised Belgium’s performance. “We’ve never played against such a good team,” he said.
IMPRESSIVE DE BRUYNE
The Hungarians, who lost key midfielder Lazlo Kleinheisler to injury in the warm-up, ceded the initiative early as Belgium found space and set the tone for a one-sided half.
De Bruyne has improved significantly after being criticised by coach Marc Wilmots and was again at the heart of much that was good about Belgium’s play.
He lofted an early shot over the bar and teed up striker Romelu Lukaku to force a sharp save from veteran Kiraly, before testing the keeper himself from the edge of the box.
Predictably, it was De Bruyne who forged the opening to cap off an excellent opening spell.
After provoking a foul on the left, the 24-year-old curled in the resulting free kick and, while his delivery evaded Lukaku, Alderweireld arrived behind his team mate to head home.
It was De Bruyne’s 11th important contribution – goal or assist – in his last 12 internationals, and represented another decisive contribution for one of the Euro’s leading lights.
Hungary were largely reduced to pot shots from distance, with Gergo Lovrencsics and Balazs Dzsudzsak both hoping in vain for a repeat of the latter’s belter against Portugal.
De Bruyne fired a free kick against the bar in the 34th, while the overworked Kiraly denied Dries Mertens and Hazard from close range as Belgium threatened to extend their lead.
Hungary improved after the break as Dzsudzsak got more of the ball and he fashioned an excellent chance for Adam Szalai, while Adam Pinter’s deflected strike drew a fine save from Courtois and Roland Juhasz sent a low drive just wide.
With Belgium failing to kill off the game, Wilmots turned to Batshuayi, so far unused at the finals, after 76 minutes.
The switch paid off almost immediately as the highly regarded forward scored with his first touch, a simple finish following a sublime cross from Hazard in the 78th.
Just as De Bruyne had imposed himself during the opening stages of the match, so Hazard shone at the finale.
Ninety-four seconds later, the forward killed the game with a magnificent solo effort, cutting in from the left, evading two challenges and thumping the ball home from the edge of the area.
Substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Carrasco combined at the death to add a breakaway fourth as Belgium secured a quarter-final date with Wales in Lille on Friday.