Belgian Cup Final Preview: Antwerp hot favourites, but former player could provide an upset

This Sunday Antwerp and Mechelen will face each other in the Belgian Cup Final at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels. Antwerp will certainly be favourites going into this, sitting third in the league and having beaten the likes of Club Brugge, Genk and Union St Gilloise on their way to the final. Mark Van Bommel’s side will be under pressure to overcome Mechelen and win their fourth domestic cup, with the last coming in 2020.

Mechelen, who last won the cup in 2018/2019 despite being in the second tier of Belgian football, have been safe for a number of weeks with nothing to play for. Steven Defour’s side overcame now relegated Zulte Waregem in the semi-final to make the showpiece. Mechelen have won the cup twice, with the first being back in 1987. They then went on to win the cup winners cup the following year, beating Ajax in the 1988 final.

Where the Great Old certainly have the biggest advantage is in their defence. In 34 league games the side conceded just 26 goals, raking up 19 clean sheets in the process. It will be difficult for Mechelen going up against the likes of Jean Butez, Toby Alderweireld and William Pacho in the Antwerp defence. No Mechelen player has reached double figures for goals this season. For Antwerp, they will be hoping to have a fit Vincent Janssen back for the final. The former Tottenham striker has scored 16 league goals this season. After him, the second in the scoring charts is Michel Ange Balikwisha with six. Even without Janssen, the attack of Balikwisha, Calvin Stengs, Abnor Muja and Jurgen Ekkelenkamp will be a difficult test for a Mechelen defence that has conceded 63 goals in 34 league games.

However, Mechelen do have match winners in their squad, one of whom is very familiar to Antwerp fans. Geoffry Hairemans is having his best season at the age of 31. The former Antwerp winger scored nine league goals and provided eight assists for Mechelen this season. His set piece delivery will be crucial for Mechelen and an area they will hope to take advantage of. Alongside Hairemans, captain Rob Schoofs will also be crucial. His two goals against Anderlecht at the end of the season reminded everyone that he has the ability to score a goal out of nothing. Schoofs has scored seven league goals this season, and it would not be a surprise to see him pop up with another one on Sunday.

Should Antwerp win, it also has an effect on the wider league. There is European qualification tied to the cup, but Anderlecht are already guaranteed some form of European football through qualifying for play-off one. Winning Sunday allows them to improve their European ticket, while also guaranteeing whoever finishes fourth in play-off one does not have to face the side that finishes top of play-off two in a two legged affair to fight for a qualification spot. This also means that the side finishing top of play-off two is also guaranteed to enter European qualification. Should Mechelen win, they will get the European ticket and the play-offs will go as normal.

Both sides have match winners, and as with any final it will be the big players that really turn up on the day that will make the difference. For Mechelen, this is their only chance at European football, something their fans would have not thought likely just a few months ago. For Antwerp, it could be a chance to win the double, with their chances of a league title still very much in the balance.

For those outside of Belgium, Mola TV will be showing the final live with English commentary.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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