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In Franky Vercauteren’s last game as Genk boss, his team were outplayed and outfought but not out of the Champions League Playoff tie, grabbing a second-half away goal that gives them every change of making the group stage for the first time since 2002
The game for Genk was overshadowed by the departing manager scenario, although he did agree to take charge of this game before heading off for pastures new. It was echoed in the performance, Genk were lifeless throughout the game and were lucky to escape from Tel Aviv with the scoreline nicely poised.
Genk before the game had 4 major players out in Kevin De Bruyne, Anthony Vanden Borre, Anele Ngongca and Marvin Ogunjimi but were boosted by the signing of Trinidadian midfielder Khaleem Hyland from Zulte Waregem, who debuted in midfield. Maccabi themselves had seven of their starting line-up on yellow cards, suggesting that Genk ought to hassle their opponents early on.
This didn’t happen. Despite an early burst down the left hand side thanks to Barda, Maccabi settled into their stride very early and took the lead in the eighth minute. A simple over-the-top ball from deep was taken down well by Wiyam Amasha, who beat Nadson and finished well to give the Greens the lead. Defensively Genk were all over the place with Maccabi infiltrating the backline from all sides. The inexperience at the back was worry and right-back Timothy Durwael was out of his depth, although to be fair to him, no defender played to the level that should be expected. Haifa piled on the early pressure and were unlucky not to get a penalty after new boy Hyland fumbled over Falach, but the referee deemed it outside the area. The resulting shot cannoned off the bar.
Vercauteren’s decision to adopt a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 formation rather than the straight 4-4-2 backfired phenomenally. Cult hero Kennedy Nwanganga, forever loved for his first touch winner that lifted the title last year, was up front on his own and very isolated. The support of Barda, Vossen and Hyland didn’t help him enough or track back for defensive duty.This was further reinstated by Maccabi’s second on 28 minutes, another rudimentary attack caught the defence napping and Eyal Golasa’s cross was turned in by Vladmir Dvalishvili. Genk looked as if they had never played together and whilst Maccabi were cohesive, it was nothing special.
The second half began in a similar vain, with the Israeli outfit unlucky to add to their lead. Slowly Genk managed to build some pressure and force their way into the game. Elyaniv Barda worked his heart out and his persistence was rewarded by a goal, pouncing on the rebound from Kennedy’s effort and smashing it in. Then the game went incredibly flat and neither team wanted to gamble and chose to stick it out. Genk however did look better with Thomas Buffel on the pitch, who I believe should have started on the right – given his experience and willingness to track back at times.
So, we didn’t learn much from Vercauteren’s final fixture, other than Genk need to improve a lot in the second leg to make the group stage. They will be very happy with the result, given the creativity set to return in De Bruyne and the home advantage. Haifa will be angry at themselves for slowing down and allowing the Belgian champions back in. It’s an unstable time at the club with Vercauteren’s shocking and swift departure, a response from the players is needed to ensure the income that the Champions League Group Stage brings.
On the departing boss himself, whilst I don’t really blame him for taking a huge salary in the Middle East, it does taint his legacy slightly. This was meant to be the culmination of nearly two years’ hard work, building on Genk’s fantastic youth prospects and gelling them into a team that could reach a European tournament. Whilst this isn’t out of the question yet, his departure leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, certainly of what might have been. With Claude Puel and Hugo Broos rumoured to take over the post, assistants Hans Visser and Pierre Denier will take the reins for the immediate future – familiarity brings the best chance of success at the moment.
Maccabi Haifa – Davidovitch, Falach, Cohen, Yahaya, Boccoli (Yampolsky 65′), Dvalishvili, Vered, Twatha, Amasha (Azriel 73′), Golasa (Tamir Cohen 82′), Meshumar
Subs not used – Saranov, Megrelishvili, Ghadir, Azulay
Genk - Köteles, Durwael, Nadson, Joneleit, Pudil, Barda, Tözser, Hubert, Hyland (Camus 89′), Vossen (Buffel 79′), Kennedy
Subs not used – Lentz, Simaeys, Dugary, Walsh, Limbombe
Attendance – 19170