BeNe in Europe: Belgium back on the verge of history, Netherlands sitting pretty

It was another decent week in Europe for the Belgian and Dutch sides as we reach mid March. The four Jupiler Pro League sides and two Eredivisie clubs continued to pick up points for their respective countries as every point matters.

Here is a rundown as to how each team did in their matches and what it means for Belgium and Netherlands coefficients wise.

Belgium: Single-season record on the precipice of falling

Despite losing a team for the first time since August, Belgium took another massive step to toppling the 12.500 points earned in the 2016/17 campaign. None of the four teams managed to win, yet three avoided defeat, making it a decent week overall.

Club Brugge was up first on Tuesday night, knowing they had it all to do in the return leg. Down 2-0 in their Champions League round of 16 tie with Benfica, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Belgian champions. Thus, it was no surprise they ended up losing 5-1 on the night and 7-1 on aggregate to the Portuguese side. It also proved to be the final straw for coach Scott Parker, who was dismissed following the result.

Thursday saw the other three Belgian sides play part in continental action. Union St. Gilloise took on Union Berlin for the third time this season’s Europa League. As the other two games ended 1-0 in favour of the visiting team, goals were not expected between the pair. Yet, USG took the lead thrice, only to be pegged back each time. The Germans levelled the score for the third and final time in the 90th minute. It ended 3-3 in the German capital, leaving everything to be decided in Brussels.

Anderlecht played the early kickoff in the Europa Conference League, hosting Villarreal. The Spaniards came into the tie as favourites, and would dominate the first half. It did lead to a goal courtesy of captain Manu Trigueros. Brian Riemer’s men would take control in the second period, earning an equalizer from Anders Dreyer. It ended 1-1, giving Anderlecht hope of progressions in Spain next week.

Playing the late kickoff, Gent hosted Istanbul Basaksehir in the Conference League, looking to get an upper hand to carry with them to Turkey. It would start terribly for De Buffalo’s, who fell behind via former Anderlecht striker Stefano Okaka. But, they would not be denied their goal, as Gift Orban levelled the score by halftime. The second half saw the pitch become severely affected by the torrential downpour, resulting in sloppy play from both teams. The match ended 1-1, making Wednesday’s return leg the all decisive one.

As three teams picked up draws for Belgium, that saw 0.600 points added to the country’s coefficient. Remaining in eighth in the five-year country ranking, Belgium moved up to sixth in the single season ranking. Only the top 5 leagues are ahead in that, leaving Belgium the best of the rest.

With 12.000 points on the campaign, this is Belgium’s second best coefficient tally in a single season. Only the 12.500 of 2016/17 betters it. That record could be beaten by the end of the week. An Union

win in the Europa League without a penalty shootout would see that happen, or if all three teams avoid defeat again. A win and a draw from the three teams are also enough.

Netherlands: Sixth place almost assured

Only two Eredivisie sides are left in Europe, and both of them took the field last week. Both AZ and Feyenoord received difficult draws, but the chance is there to see both clubs move on.

Playing their Conference League game on Tuesday due to a stadium clash, AZ traveled to Rome to face Lazio. Despite going a goal down, AZ would complete the comeback with goals from Vangelis Pavlidis and Milos Kerkez. The match ended 2-1 in the Eredivisie club’s favour, giving them the upper hand in the return leg.

In Thursday’s Europa League play, Feyenoord travelled to Poland to face Shakhtar Donetsk. Although Arne Slot’s men would outshoot the Pitmen 21-5, it was the Ukrainians who got the opening goal 13 minutes from time. With a couple minutes of normal time remaining, Feyenoord equalized thanks to Ezequiel Bullaude. The match ended 1-1, as Bullaude’s equalizer could end up turning the tie Feyenoord’s way.

The win and draw in Europe saw Netherlands pick up 0.600 points on the week. It sees them remain sixth in the five-year ranking with 57.900 points. A total of 11.500 have been won so far this season, currently the eighth best.

Rivals for that all-important six spot, Portugal also got a win and a draw. Benfica’s Champions League success was followed by Sporting CP earning a 2-2 draw in Thursday’s Europa League. Portugal earned 0.666 points that week off the pair’s work.

Next could settle the race for sixth spot. If Porto and Sporting both fail to progress from their respective ties, then Netherlands will be guaranteed to finish in sixth, regardless of Benfica’s subsequent games in the Champions League. The Dutch are almost there. The coming week will be a very important one for both countries.

David Parkes

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