Belgium National Team

Playoffs – Club Brugge on the move

With only three fixtures remaining, we’re still no closer to knowing who will lift the Jupiler Pro League at the end of the season. Four points separated surprise leader Zulte Waregem from fifth placed Racing Genk going into the weekend, but coming out of it, the only ‘artificial’ title race worth caring about in Europe got that much more intriguing, as Chris Mayer reports…

Zulte Waregem 0-4 Genk

Friday night’s delight was served up at the Regenboogenstadion, as two teams with identical records (W2 D2 L2) met looking to get back on the right track. Mario Been’s side were in danger of dropping out of the championship fight altogether, while Zulte Waregem wanted to prove the Standard defeat previous week was merely a blip. Things couldn’t have started much worse for the home side however, with Racing taking the lead after four minutes. Thomas Buffel’s cross rebounded off Karel D’Haene onto the unfortunate Bruno Godeau’s shin and past the returning Sammy Bossut. Shellshocked, Eseevee conceded again just three minutes later, as Steeven Joseph-Monrose found acres of space on the left and duly finished. Franky Dury’s words at half-time didn’t help the Essevee defence, who conceded yet another calamitous goal. Bossut fumbled a free-kick straight into the path of Benji De Ceulaer to make it 3-0. Moments later, a lifeline arrived as Thorgan Hazard went down under minimal pressure in the area. Up stepped Mbaye Leye, and just like he did in the 2-1 victory over Anderlecht, the Senegalese striker sidefooted high over the bar. After the game, Leye and Berrier were involved in an ugly spat with Leye, slapping his teammate, before saying post-match words to the effect of ‘either he leaves or I do’. Berrier of course has already made it clear his future lies away from the club, title or not. Essevee’s nightmare evening was compounded in the 84th minute as Elyaniv Barda lifted it over the despairing keeper. It was a huge win gifted to Genk, reminiscent of their 5-0 cup win in December, but Franky Dury faces the toughest test of the campaign so far – making sure all of his players keep focused on the prize at hand. It would be a great shame if it their title charge ends through squabbling. Leye and Berrier were quick to say it was all water under the bridge, but how detrimental will this be to squad morale?

Anderlecht 2-0 Standard Liège

The first of Sunday’s games was Belgium league’s own Superclasico, the fourth of which this season (another problem with the playoffs). On the move Standard were undefeated in the previous three, and looked to have Sporting’s number. In a fairly tense game, it was Anderlecht who finally set the record straight with a brace from Guillaume Gillet. The auxiliary right-back’s first came from a set-piece, heading past Eiji Kawashima from Lucas Biglia’s well-delivered free-kick. He was the unlucky man chosen to convert from the penalty spot, after Dieumerci Mbokani went to ground. With Anderlecht missing 11 out of 17 spotkicks this season (excluding shootouts), Gillet overcame the Vanden Stock’s collective nerves to slot coolly into the bottom corner. Coach John van den Brom was understandably relieved as he made the player practice in training all week for the possibility. Anderlecht retake top spot with this important victories over a fierce rival, which was only Standard’s second defeat in seven matches.

Club Brugge 2-1 Lokeren

The two teams propping up Playoffs 1 met at the Jan Breydelstadion. Club Brugge knew that a win would take them second though, while Lokeren were just looking to spoil the party. The game was overshadowed by a potentially serious injury to Lokeren’s keeper Boubacar ‘Copa’ Barry. Attempting to save a Carlos Bacca shot, the Ivory Coast international collided with his goalframe, knocking himself out. With officials and players obviously concerned for Copa’s condition, the game was stopped briefly, with the popular Lokeren’s No.1 leaving on a stretcher straight to hospital. We later learnt that Copa had severe concussion, curtailing his season.The game took a while to find any rhythm due to this. Suspended Ryan Donk and Carl Hoefkens watched from the stands with loyal supporters, but their presence did little to inspire teammates on the pitch. Maes’ men did well to exploit a high Club Brugge line and took the lead as Garrido’s side were sleeping. A throw-in found Nill De Pauw, who squared to the primed Tunisian Hamdi Harbaoui, to score his 11th goal of the season. Thomas Meunier failed to cut out the attack and was made to pay. The goal only kickstarted things for Blauw-Zwart who equalised just before the interval and once again, it was Maxime Lestienne who provided the quality. In what was almost a carbon copy of last week’s strike vs Anderlecht, the winger cut Hassan El Mouataz to piece before unleashing an unstoppable shot with his left foot into the bottom corner. The 20-year old is in a rich vein of form and it surely can’t be long before a bigger club come sniffing. The second period was a rearguard action for Lokeren, placing several defenders on top scorer Carlos Bacca, negating his impact on the fixture. Just over ten minutes from the end, the home side found the breakthrough. Israeli Lior Refaelov let rip from outside the box finding the bottom corner to secure three points and second for Club Brugge, two points off Anderlecht.

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