TOULOUSE, France (AP) — For a team at the European Championship, being the clear favorite to reach the quarterfinals surely has to be a good thing.
That’s not how Belgium sees it. At least in public, its players and coaching staff appear wary as they prepare for Sunday’s game in Toulouse against Hungary in the round of 16.
Led by the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium is among the teams being tipped to win Euro 2016, while Hungary is playing at its first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
However, the Hungarians have already caused one upset at the tournament by finishing top of Group F after a thrilling 3-3 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in their final group match.
Now they are looking to defy the odds a second time.
“Hungary have really surprised everyone, but they deserve it,” Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel said. “We’ll have to be careful.”.
Fellow midfielder Radja Nainggolan feels Belgium has the players to at least make the semifinals, and they have already showed their resilience. The team opened with a 2-0 loss to Italy, but was quick to bounce back with wins against Ireland and Sweden to finish second in Group E.
But Nainggolan is also aware of the potential pitfalls on Sunday.
“We are playing against the winner of a group that included Portugal, so we’d better watch it,” Nainggolan said. “We might be favorites in theory, but so was Portugal.”.
Those views will have been encouraged by coach Marc Wilmots, who is expecting a tough game at the Stadium de Toulouse.
“Don’t make it sound that Hungary will be easy,” Wilmots said. “Have you seen Portugal-Hungary? 3-3. There are no small nations anymore.”.
For their part, Hungary’s players are equally determined not to get carried away by having finished top of their group ahead of Iceland, Portugal and Austria.
Instead, a side without any big-name players is counting on team spirit to secure an unlikely place in the quarterfinals.
“We still don’t believe that we are the best,” captain Balazs Dzsudzsak said. “We are trying to handle things and live the moment with calm.
“Hungary doesn’t have a player or two who belongs among the best in the world, but has a team which I would not trade for anything.”.
Hungary defensive midfielder Adam Pinter was on the same wavelength.
“We feel we are a big family,” he said. “The team is very united.”.
Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.
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