The European club competitions have already commenced, with the preliminary round of the Champions League, plus the first qualifying round of the same competition and the Europa Conference League, being completed. Over the next two weeks, second qualifying round for both competitions will transpire. There will be a whopping 130 clubs involved.
Among those 130 teams, three Belgian teams and a Dutch one will take the field in Europe for the first time in 2023/24. As such, here is a season preview for Belgium’s and Netherlands’ European representatives.
Belgium: great chance for another record breaking season
After a record breaking 2022/23 campaign, Belgium will see Genk (UCL), Club Brugge, and Gent (both UECL) start their European seasons this week. Antwerp (UCL playoff round) and Union St. Gilloise (UEL playoff round) will join the fray later this summer.
For the first time since 2012/13, no Belgian team has earned an automatic group stage spot, without the need of playing in qualifying. Moreover, should neither Antwerp nor Genk make the Champions League group stage, it will mark the first time since 2010/11 that no Belgian side features in the UCL’s group stage.
Looking at the five Jupiler Pro League teams in Europe this season, it once again looks like it could be another stellar year. Both Antwerp and Union will play group stage football, though which competition is yet to be known. In Genk’s case, they just need to win one tie to assure their presence in the group phase. As for Club Brugge and Gent, they both need to traverse through three rounds of qualifiers.
The good news for Club and Gent is that they are both seeded throughout the qualifying rounds of the Conference League, increasing their chances of making the group stages there. For their first tasks in Europe, Club Brugge takes on Danish side AGF Aarhus. For Gent, they battle Slovak side Zilina, who defeated Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn in the first round.
Union is also technically seeded in the Europa League playoff round, and should they avoid Olympiakos and Slavia Praha, they will fancy their chances. Genk was seeded in their Champions League Q2 draw, where they face Swiss side Servette. Antwerp will most likely be unseeded in the UCL playoff round draw, where their opponent is yet to be determined.
The last time all five Belgian clubs made the group stages in one season was back in 2016/17. Back then, Anderlecht (UCL), Club Brugge, Standard Liège, Gent and Genk (UEL) were the teams involved. This is the best chance of that happening again since.
Finally, from a coefficient perspective, Belgium starts the season in eighth place in UEFA’s five-year country ranking. Sitting four points ahead of Scotland, it is unlikely that Belgium will be caught.
For this campaign, it is just a matter of solidifying eighth spot. Given the quality of the teams in Europe this season, Belgium may even have a go for a top two finish in the seasonal ranking. Should they
achieve that feat, there would be an extra European spot available next season, in the revamped Champions League league phase. Should all five teams perform well this term, it will surely be another successful year for Belgian football in Europe.
Netherlands: an opportunity to oust France for fifth
For the second straight season, Netherlands will be represented by the same five teams in Europe. Coming off another solid campaign in 2022/23, expectations will be high for the Dutch to continue their impressive European showings.
Feyenoord will enter the Champions League group stage, with PSV – who starts in the competition’s third qualifying round – looking to join them. Ajax enters the Europa League at the playoff stage, assured minimum Conference League football in the fall. AZ, fresh off a semifinal run in the Conference League, starts their continental season in the competition’s their qualifying round. Finally, Twente will enter the UECL’s second qualifying round, where they face Sweden’s Hammarby.
Should PSV get to the Champions League group stage, it would be the first time since 2018/19 that Netherlands has multiple clubs in the UCL group phase. As for AZ and Twente, should they both make the Conference League main round, it would mark the second time in three seasons that all five Dutch clubs participated in a group stage.
Regarding seeding, Feyenoord is in Pot 1 of the UCL group stage draw. PSV will be seeded in the third qualifying round, but unseeded for the playoff round. Ajax is in essence a seeded team in the Europa League. AZ will be seeded throughout UECL qualifying, while Twente was seeded in the Q2 draw, as they will be in Q3. Should they feature in the playoff round draw, however, they will be unseeded.
Looking at Netherlands’ coefficient situation, they start the campaign in fifth spot, just over France. It will be a battle between the two countries to see who will end up fifth at season’s end. Given that Portugal is more than five points behind both Netherlands and France, sixth is likely the lowest the Dutch will finish.
As a result, the ambition of this season will be to finish ahead of France. That is doable, but will require both AZ and Twente to make the Conference League group stage. Fail to do so, and France will have a massive advantage.
Furthermore, like Belgium, Netherlands will have reason to chase a top two finish in the seasonal ranking. The Dutch finished second in 2021/22 behind England. A repeat performance is not out of the question. It would just require a strong showing from all five teams.