Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has called for all-round improvements as his side look to seal a quarter-final berth at Euro 2016 and finally convince their anxious fans with a win over Hungary on Sunday.
A patchy 1-0 win over Sweden followed Belgium’s 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland but Wilmots’ men, who lost their Group E opener 2-0 to Italy, have yet to truly convince expectant fans.
Belgium are the second-best ranked team in the world and Wilmots believes they are “among the top five or six best teams in Europe”.
But the performances of a team that includes Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne have failed to meet the expectations of fans back home and Wilmots wants his players to raise their game.
“I expect better performances from everyone, even though they’ve come through the tournament pretty well so far,” Wilmots said in Toulouse on Saturday.
“Our ball distribution has to be better and we have to capitalise when he win back possession and go back on the offensive.
“On Sunday, we need to also focus on keeping possession to try and tire them out as much as possible and try to create chances.
“We need to be patient, play quickly and keep the ball on the ground. And be present in the duels because the Hungarians fight like they’re fighting for their lives.”
While Belgium have failed to live up to expectations, Hungary’s feats at their first international tournament for three decades have inspired a nation.
German coach Bernd Storck’s men sealed their place in the last 16 with a stunning 3-3 draw that Portugal’s two-goal hero Cristiano Ronaldo called “insane”.
Hungary, whose last major finals appearance came at the 1986 World Cup, finished top of Group E to join a host of other nations who have punched above their weight to reach the knockout phase.
Host of Belgian stars
Packed with stars like Chelsea’s Hazard, Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini 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 Monday’s knockout clash in Toulouse.
Wilmots admits Belgium are under more pressure than their opponents but has urged his players not to get caught in the trap of believing it will be easy.
“We’ve got more pressure because we have big expectations back home. The players know if they lose, we’ll lose everything,” added Wilmots.
“We’re among the top five or six footballing nations in Europe, so it’s normal for us to have some ambition. But sometimes things happen in a match that upset your predictions. I hope not.
“I won’t need to motivate the players, they’ll be going out to play as if they are playing against a prestigious side, a footballing superpower, because they know their mission.”
He added: “You can always do better, but you can’t say we’re playing badly. We have a varied game and my three attacking midfielders have quite liberal roles even though they have responsibilities when we lose possession.
“But let’s be realistic and honest: the first priority is qualification.”