All quiet on the Waregem front

After 18 years in the Belgian top flight, Zulte Waregem were relegated to the second tier of Belgian football. Relegation is painful, as any fan who has been through it can attest. Some may be lucky enough to never experience it, but a final day relegation can be the worst feeling for a football fan. For Zulte Waregem’s fans, they had been given a spark of hope after their side hammered Eupen 5-1 in a must win relegation six pointer the weekend before.

For Zulte Waregem, the task was simple. They had to win, and hope that Club Brugge would do them a favour. against Eupen At the Jan Breydel, the defending champions ran riot as they hammered Eupen 7-0. Yet, Zulte Waregem were struggling against the other Cercle Brugge side. After just 10 minutes they were 2-0 down, as goals from Hugo Siquet and Ayase Ueda put the Green and Black’s in control. For Cercle, they needed a win as well to grab a place in the play-offs. When the away side were given a penalty just before half-time, it felt like Zulte Waregem were going to go down without a fight. However, Ueda’s slip and double touch of the ball meant that his finish was ruled out, giving the home side hope.

That hope increased when 18-year-old Lukas Willen scored his first goal for the club just before the hour mark to make it 2-1. Under 10 minutes later Senegalese attacker Alioune Ndour made it 2-2. Barely a minute later and Alieu Fadera appeared to have turned the game on its head when he made it 3-2. VAR, however, intervened, and the game remained at 2-2. Zulte Waregem’s fans had just had a feeling of relief sapped out of them by the virtual referee.

Cercle then began to retake control of the game, as results were going against them elsewhere and they needed a win. With just seven minutes to go, Brugge local boy Thibo Somers broke Zulte Waregem’s fans hearts. The 24-year-old’s fifth goal of the season was the final nail in the coffin for the hosts.

Eupen, despite losing 7-0, had survived. Zulte Waregem had fought, but in the end their inconsistent season and ability to throw away points from winning positions cost them dearly. Despite bringing in players such as Ruud Vormer in January, their squad just did not have enough to beat the drop. They will certainly look back at the Vormer injury and think what if, as when he was in the side they looked a much more confident team.

It was a sad ending for a side that, under long-term coach Franky Dury, had punched well above its weight. Under Dury the club won the domestic cup twice, coming runners up once, and had a few European campaigns to look back on. In the 2012/2013 season the side finished second in the league, their highest ever finish, missing out on the title to Anderlecht who beat them by two points.

Now, the side are back in the second tier after over a decade of Pro League success. It will certainly be a week of sadness in Waregem and there will be a lot of looking back at this season to work out where things went wrong and what needs to be done to bring about an immediate return to the top flight.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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