As Belgium ran riot against Hungary in Toulouse on Sunday evening, winning by the greatest margin of Euro 2016 so far, it was a familiar face who hogged the limelight. The 4-0 victory for Marc Wilmots side saw Chelsea forward, Eden Hazard, put in one of the performances of the tournament so far as he reigned havoc over an unsuspecting Hungarian defence.
Now the tournament’s most effective player in the final third, having been involved in more goals (three assists and one goal) than any other player in France, the Stamford Bridge faithful will be loving what they are witnessing. Having watched the former Lille man go missing for much of the previous campaign, you just get a sense that he is back to his best, and raring to prove each and every one of his doubters wrong.
Positioned on the left-hand-side of a Belgium attacking-midfield trifecta, Hazard put in a man of the match display for the Red Devils. Indeed, afforded plenty of space on the counter against somewhat inadequate opposition, the stand-in Belgium captain approached the tie with little mercy. He even outshone the ever-impressive Kevin de Bruyne.
The 24-year-old’s ability to slow down play, before bursting between opposition lines, is a key factor to his game and he punished Hungary with his ability in possession of the ball in Toulouse. Completing a tournament-best eleven take ons – a 92% success rate – while drawing two fouls, he was simply untouchable – and he used these powers to devastating effect.
He capped an exhilarating display with 20 minutes to play, not once, but twice. First, he broke free and played a square ball to substitute Michu Batshuayi, who despatched just two minutes after entering the field of play. He then completed his evening by scoring his first ever goal at an international tournament, cutting in from the left, beating two players and firing the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Soon after scoring his goal, he found himself substituted by manager Marc Wilmots, presumably to rest him ahead of a tricky quarter-final display against Wales, although it could just have easily have been to spare Hungary any further embarrassment. One thing is for sure, the team that topped Group F, ahead of Portugal, will certainly be happy to see the back of the Chelsea forward.
His involvement in this tie saw him provide four key chances for his Belgium team-mates, while he completed an mightily impressive 90% of his total attempted passes – 32 of which came in the final third. To top this, he managed two attempts at goal himself, scoring with one, and forcing 40-year-old Gábor Király into making a save with the other.
It was a perfect display from Hazard, who after a disappointing domestic campaign at Stamford Bridge, is looking to re-establish himself as one of Europe’s brightest talents in France. This most recent performance will certainly go a long way to proving the critics wrong. There is absolutely no doubting the notion that an onlooking Antonio Conte – soon to be Chelsea’s new manager – will have been rubbing his hands with glee.