Belgium National Team

Anderlecht and Zulte Waregem set for title showdown

Just three teams were still left in the fight for Jupiler Pro League glory. By the end of the penultimate game, only two would be left standing. Top of the tree Anderlecht travelled to six placed Lokeren, while Zulte Waregem and Club Brugge knew a defeat would mean the end of the title ambitions. Chris Mayer and Luke Harvey saw it all unfold. Current champions Anderlecht knew that a win at Daknam would put the destination into their own hands. They would have to do it without Lucas Biglia in midfield.

Elsewhere, former police detective Francky Dury certainly laid down the law, sensationally benching Franck Berrier. The French midfielder had made his desire to leave clear previously, which derailed Zulte Waregem’s playoff momentum. The Essevee boss, seeing squad morale on the floor, decided to bring in Jens Naessens which gave Thorgan Hazard to roam in midfield. Juan Carlos Garrido’s side got off to the worst possible start as Óscar Duarte pushed Naessens inexplicably on 10 minutes. Althought it wasn’t forceful, the Costa Rican was the last man and had to go. The younger Hazard, who earlier in the day had received his first callup to the national team, duly converted.

Elsewhere Anderlecht took the lead at Daknam. US international Sacha Kljestan headed past Jugoslav Lazic to give the champions some breathing space at the top. Lokeren didn’t fancy lying down, even if Peter Maes’ record against Les Mauves is similar to Steve Bruce’s vs Manchester United. Olivier Deschacht brought down Benjamin Mokulu Tembe giving Lokeren a way back into the fixture. Silvio Proto, voted goalkeeper of the year in Belgium earlier in the week, guessed correctly where Mijat Maric was going, retaining Anderlecht’s lead. Just moments later at Regenboogenstadion, Thorgan Hazard expertly played in Ebony Shoe winner Mbaye Leye, and the Senegalese striker slotted past Vladan Kujovic to score his 16th goal of the season. The younger Hazard was really making his mark, along with Jonathan Delaplace in the centre of midfield.

With Zulte Waregem throwing down a marker, Anderlecht duly responded. Mati Suarez, now fully installed in the Sporting side following a lengthy layoff, scored his second in as many games to double their lead just before the break. Is he looking to put himself in the shop window? At the interval, it looked like we were set for a final game title showdown between the two teams arguably most deserving of the championship. Anderlecht made their game safe quickly into the second half, and it was Suarez again proving decisive with his second of the game. Three clear and coasting. The same couldn’t be said in Waregem, just yet. Juan Carlos Garrido, rightly fuming at his side’s first half showing, brought on Laurens De Bock for Tom Hogli and it wasn’t long before the returning captain Ryan Donk dragged his team back into it. It wasn’t for long. Five minutes later, Thorgan Hazard was again the creator, teeing up the other captain Davy De Fauw. Donk slid in but could only divert the effort past Kujovic, and once again Essevee could breathe.

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Dury’s side weren’t finished though. Hazard and Malanda strode upfield with Leye. It was the defensive midfielder who found Leye, before the top scorer in Playoffs 1 sold the Club Brugge centre-backs Almeback and Donk down the river and let rip. Game safe and title decider sealed.The coach’s decision to ditch the want-away Berrier looked justified, as Thorgan Hazard assumed the creative role left by the Frenchman to greater effect, as well settling down Essevee’s erratic performances with Berrier present. Hazard grabbed his goal from open play just before full-time, although it might be sent to the Dubious Goals Panel.

Donk found time for another consolation late on to make it 4-2. At the same time, Anderlecht found time to score a screamer from Demy De Zeeuw. Even more shocking was Tom De Sutter’s backheel in the buildup. Les Mauves gifted Lokeren two goals too, as Bram Nuytinck put into his own net and Jeremy Taravel followed up. Not it mattered a jot. Essevee were stretching Club Brugge to their absolute limits and looked full of verve. The 5-2 scoreline wasn’t quite the thriller we saw last month, but you do wonder how close it would have been without Duarte’s push early on. 14 goals in two classics between these two shouldn’t be sniffed at. So it all goes to Sunday, where Anderlecht meet Zulte Waregem to decide the destination of the title. It’s the dominant force seeking their 32nd title against the plucky misfits who’ve fought tooth and nail throughout the 39 games. If the Playoffs have taught us anything this season, it’s that anything can happen. Fortunately for Anderlecht, it won’t go to penalties.

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