With the tie level after 210 minutes of football, both teams were shattered (putting it mildly) and it was Koteles who conjured up the only piece of magic in a fairly dull game when it mattered most.
Often relied upon caretaker Pierre Denier took the reins for the second leg, after Franky Vercauteren left the club following the first leg, an abject performance. At the Cristal Arena, Genk were much improved. With Vercauteren watching from the stands, Denier chose to play Thomas Buffel on the right, a move that seemed to give the entire team a lift.
Jelle Vossen certainly looked more like his usual self in this leg, buoyed by the animated crowd. The opening few minutes were all Genk, forcing Nir Davidovitch into a string of good saves. It was a complete reversal of the leg in Israel, with Maccabi’s defence looking all at sea this time round. The Israeli champions soon found some rhythm, once again exposing the full-backs but found Lazlo Koteles almost every time.
Genk finally made the breakthrough they needed in the 35th minute. Ex-Maccabi player Elyaniv Barda provided Kennedy with a lofted pass, who scuffled with Itzik Cohen leaving Jelle Vossen free to pounce on the free ball. The tie had turned Genk’s way, but only for two minutes.
Maccabi responded quickly as their next move found 19-year old Eyal Golasa in the centre with acres of space, and he duly fired a fantastic shot over Koteles. There was nothing the keeper could do about it, apart from shout at the outfield for failing to spot Golasa on his own.
The mad five minute period was ended with Genk taking the lead once more. Vossen capitalised on some awful defending from the away team, as no one appeared to be forming a line. When they finally caught up with him, the ball fell to Thomas Buffel, whose weak shot was equally weakly punched by Davidovitch.
After half-time, the erratic play was no more as both teams opted to shore up their defence and not take a gamble, although this was likely dictated by fitness – Maccabi had only played one league so far this season. In fact, Maccabi arguably edged the second half in this unbelievably dull specatacle given the prize on offer to the victor. So we headed to extra-time with the tie completely even
Referee Howard Webb handled the game well, realising Jelle Vossen was being targeted and equally going to ground easily. The only talking point in the 30 minutes added on was his dismissal of Cohen for a second bookable offence. Possibly a harsh decision, but with his consistent fouling throughout the game, the Yorkshireman had had enough.
Genk were put through the wringer as Maccabi rattled the post late on but the dreaded penalty shootout was always on the cards to settle the stalemate. Weary legs were the main issue, with several players cramping up in extra time and you wondered if anyone could actually run to the penalty spot.
Vossen was entrusted with the first penalty, which he put right in the bottom left corner. Up stepped Georgian striker, Vladimir Dvalishvili who fired his shot down the middle, Koteles getting his trailing firmly on it. Not the best start for the away team. Captain David Hubert scored the next effort and the pressure was really on goalscorer Goalasa. His spotkick was better than the previous but Koteles got a hand to it, much like Jerzy Dudek against Andriy Shevchenko in 2005 – the perfect inspiration to make the Champions League. Koteles celebrated as if the save had won the Champions League itself, let alone the match, running to the corner flag arms aloft.
Daniel Toszer made it 3-0 to Genk, before Tawatha scored Maccabi’s solitary penalty. It came down to left-back Daniel Pudil, who was much improved during the game, to win it for Genk. His shot was hit high and the crowd erupted. Genk had made the group-stage of the Champions League for the first time since 2002/03.
The players saluted Koteles’ heroics after the game with Barda calling him ‘a hero’. He certainly grabbed the headlines with his late show-stealing performance, probably making the time he spent on the bench last year under youngster Thibaut Courtois seem worth it. It shows the strength of Genk’s goalkeeping development, seemingly having a conveyor belt of shot-stoppers.
Thomas Buffel noted the significance of qualifying saying ‘This is a huge result not just for Genk but for Belgian football”. Quite right as Belgium’s co-efficient improves immensely after Anderlecht’s penalty shootout failure last year, not to mention the financial dividends it brings, estimated at €15m in revenue.
Genk will be Pot 4 in Thursday’s group stage draw and might seem like an easy option for some of the big teams, but the Belgians will be ecstatic to be part of it all, hopefully showcasing why they were champions last year. It was sort of fitting seeing Vercauteren in the stands, arguably seeing the fruition of the project he started two years ago. But he’ll miss out on European football after taking Al-Jazira job. Anyway, Genk shouldn’t be underestimated by the elite clubs, maybe they can provide a shock or two.
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