Belgian Clubs in Europe: Playoff Round

The last two weeks saw Belgium’s five European representatives take part in intense playoff round ties in Europe. Antwerp (Champions League), Union St. Gilloise (Europa League), Genk, Club Brugge and Gent (all Europa Conference League) were involved. In what was one of the most successful weeks in recent years for Belgian sides in Europe, here is a review of what happened, and how it adds up coefficient-wise.

Antwerp makes UCL group stage for the first time

Royal Antwerp was the first Belgian side in action, as they faced Greek regulars AEK Athens. After two closely-fought encounters, Antwerp prevailed 3-1 on aggregate to become the seventh different side to play in the Champions League proper.

The first leg in Belgium was decided by a Vincent Janssen goal a quarter hour in. AEK pushed for the equalizer after that, and was aided by a Jelle Bataille red card early in the second half. In the end, the Greeks could not find a goal, going into the second leg 1-0 down.

The decider, played in Athens, saw Antwerp go ahead via a Gyrano Kerk goal 73 minutes in. While AEK did equalize in the last minute of normal time, Michel-Ange Balikwisha sealed the deal for the Belgian champions in stoppage time. The 2-1 win away completed the job as Antwerp won 3-1 over the two legs.

Union impresses in Europa League, makes competition’s group stage

For the second year running, Union St. Gilloise will enjoy Europa League football in the fall. This comes after the Brussels club topped Swiss side Lugano 3-0 on aggregate. USG was reasonably comfortable throughout the 180 minutes, and deservedly moved on.

It just took eight minutes in the first match for Union to find the goal, via Dennis Eckert. A second would be added by Casper Terho with 20 minutes to play, giving USG a 2-0 advantage to take to Switzerland.

In the second leg, Eckert again scored early on to give Union a 1-0 victory away from home. In the final moments of the match, Lugano’s Albian Hajdari received a red card for a foul. That seldom made a difference in the outcome, as Union won 3-0 on aggregate.

Genk pushed to penalties, but still defeats Adana Demirspor

After losing back-to-back European ties this summer, Genk was involved in a do-or-die Conference League playoff against Turkish debutants Adana Demirspor. Following an entertaining 210 minutes of football, penalties were required, with Genk holding their nerve to win the shootout 5-4.

The first game in Belgium saw Adana take the lead shortly after halftime. Playing with their backs against the wall, Genk found their equalizer in the 77th minute via Tolu Arokodare. They completed their comeback in stoppage time, as Daniel Muñoz found the net to give them a 2-1 lead after the first game.

The second leg in Turkey saw the hosts come out in search of a second goal in the tie. They got their just reward on the stroke of halftime, as Cherif Ndiaye put them level. That was the only goal on the night, as the game would ultimately go to a shootout. There, Younès Balhanda hit the post in the third round, the only time a player failed to score. That was enough for Genk, who won the tie 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate score.

Club Brugge digs deep, takes out Osasuna

In one of the most intriguing ties of the Conference League playoffs, Club Brugge managed to defeat Osasuna 4-3 overall to book a group stage spot in the competition. It was a huge win for Blauw-Zwart, who was behind at one point.

The first leg, played in Spain, saw Club take the lead through Andreas Skov Olsen. Ronny Deila’s men had to dig deep, and showed incredible resolve. Just two minutes after Osasuna scored, Maxim de Cuyper scored a stunner to put Club ahead for good. They won 2-0 in Spain, taking a crucial step towards progressing.

However, Club Brugge’s mettle was again tested in the second leg. Osasuna got two goals by the 53rd minute to go up 3-2 on aggregate. That would not deter the Belgians though, as Igor Thiago and Skov Olsen scored three minutes apart to send Club Brugge to the group stages. It ended 2-2 at Janbreydelstadion, as Club won 4-3 across the two legs.

Gent makes Conference League group stage once again

For the third successive year , Gent will play in the Conference League group stages. In their playoff round tie, Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s side topped APOEL Nicosia 4-1 on aggregate to win the tie.

The goals came late on in the first leg in Belgium. Malik Fofana came off the bench to put Gent ahead in the 77th minute. Hong Hyun Seok doubled their lead in stoppage time to give Gent a 2-0 cushion going to Cyprus. They were in control of the tie, and never looked too troubled.

That continued in the second leg, as Gent scores goals in either half to win 2-1 away. Matisse Samoise got the first goal at the half-hour mark, before Tarik Tissoudali wrapped it up with 10 minutes to play. A Davy Roef error on the last play of the game was the one blip for Gent, who can be satisfied with the result.

All five Belgian teams in a group stage: another record season coming?

For the first time since 2016/17, Belgium will have all five of their teams playing group stage football. Back then, the country earned 12.500 points on the season. Until last campaign, that was Belgium’s best ever season in Europe from a coefficient standpoint.

The playoff round treated Belgian football very well. A perfect five for five from the first leg added a full point to Belgium’s coefficient. A further 0.700 match points were added after the second legs (3-1-1 record), along with 0.800 bonus points for Antwerp reaching the Champions League proper. Add that all up, and Belgium earned 2.500 points in the playoff round.

As they will likely remain throughout the season, Belgium sits eighth in the five-year coefficient ranking, with their total sitting at 38.400 points. The seasonal coefficient, however, is where things look promising.

After this summer’s qualifying, Belgium earned a grand total of 4.000 points. That is joint-second alongside Denmark, with only Turkey’s 6.250 points bettering the Belgian/Danish haul. As a reminder, the two countries with the best seasonal coefficient will earn an extra Champions League spot for next season’s competition, it being an extra European place overall. With Belgium having all five teams in the group stages, they have a decent shot at challenging for one of those two places.

David Parkes

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