Imagine having to root against Eden Hazard. I tried it today.
It did not work out well. At all.
And so, Hungary's 30-year dream is done (hopefully not for another 30 years!) while Belgium move on to face Wales in the quarterfinals after a rather comprehensive dismantling of the tournament's Cinderella story (yeah, yeah, I see you, too, Iceland). Hungary's first major international tournament since 1986 ends with a 4-0 defeat, but it also ends with plenty of hope for the future. Their exit from the 1986 World Cup was famous for a 6-0 defeat; one imagines this year's result won't have the damaging impact of that loss to the Soviet Union.
For the game, Hungary edged possession and overall passing numbers, though Belgium did have the clear advantage in shots (25:16) and attacking third passes (twice as many as Hungary). Belgium's individual quality married with some scintillating speed, teamwork, and desire was too much for the underdogs.
But, Hungary, unlike Slovakia against Germany in the earlier game, came to play today. Even when midfield star László Kleinheisler went down with an injury in warm-ups, they didn't change their plans. The passed the ball around, were confident in possession (perhaps too confident, especially given their errant passes), and buoyed by being the tournament's leading goalscorers coming in to the match, were clearly confident enough to achieve greatness. They didn't achieve greatness, obviously, but they didn't sit back and hope to hang on for penalties.
Granted, even if they had wanted to, conceding in the 10th minute would've been the wrong way to go about it. As commendable as it was to go for an open game, giving all that space to Belgium was not necessarily the smartest tactical wrinkle. Especially in the first half, Belgium were repeatedly creating good chances, Eden Hazard often leading the charge through the porous Hungarian midfield. A bit more quality from Lukaku, a bit more accuracy from De Bruyne, and a bit more luck from Mertens could've easily had Belgium up more than just the 1-0 at the half. Gábor Király, mostly known for his sweatpants, also put on a goalkeeping clinic in the first half and kept the red-white-and-green in it.
The tables turned slightly at the start of the second half, with Thibaut Courtois getting called into action, too. He matched Király's feats with several excellent saves of his own. Eventually, Belgium's quality paid off and as Hungary pushed for the equalizer, Eden Hazard decided to settle things. First, he passed to himself and then laid the ball across the penalty area for Batshuayi to score (sorry about the ESPN commentary)...
...then, just a minute later, did the honors himself with a most typical of Eden Hazard goals. Cut once, cut twice, defenders sliding everywhere, BANG, back of the net.
A goal that "his performance deserved", says the BBC's commentator. Indeed.
Captain Eden Hazard took Belgium on his back today and twisting, turning, juking, assisting, scoring, and even tracking back, took them into the quarterfinals. When he tracked right back Ádám Lang all the way to his own touchline, I wasn't sure whether to be proud or angry. When we talked before the tournament about Hazard leading on the pitch rather than leading with shouty words and big speeches, this is what we wanted to see.
So, as sad as I am about Hungary's (expected) exit (if perhaps not by such a lopsided score), I'm even more excited (far more excited) about seeing this Hazard show up in a Chelsea shirt in a month or so, and showing us that the last 12 months were all just some cosmic joke.