BeNe in Europe: Belgium back on track, Netherlands falters further

The second half of the Champions League’s round of 16 first legs, along with the second legs of the Europa League and Europa Conference League knockout playoffs took place last week. Two Belgian sides and two Dutch clubs were in action with the hopes of progressing. As none of the four won their first matches, the pressure was on them to bring their best.

Here is a look back at how they did and what it means for both countries’ coefficients.

Belgium with another big week, on the cusp of a record

Anderlecht and Gent both lost 1-0 in their Conference League knockout round playoffs to Ludogorets and Qarabag, respectively. That left the pair with work to do in their return matches. No Belgian team had prevailed in a springtime knockout tie in Europe since 2016/17. Now was that chance.

It was the Paars-Wit who kicked off the day on Thursday. It took only 15 minutes for them to level the tie on aggregate courtesy of an own goal. Midway through the second half, Yari Verschaeren put Anderlecht in the driver’s seat. Moments later, Ludogorets hit back to bring the tie back to level pegging. Extra time would be required, where Ludo would go down to 10 men. The extra 30 minutes solved nothing, meaning penalties were required.

That is where Anderlecht keeper Bart Verbruggen came up big, saving all three penalties he faced. The hosts converted all three of theirs to progress to the last 16. Verbruggen won the Conference League’s player of the week award for his troubles. Anderlecht faces Villarreal in the next round.

Gent’s game kicked off at the Ghelamco Arena as Anderlecht’s match was still going on. Still, the Buffalos knew they were in the same situation as their Belgian compatriots. Although Qarabag threatened with multiple chances, the Azeri regulars could not find the goal. Gent would make them pay through substitute Gift Orban. The Nigerian scored 15 minutes from time to bring parity to the tie and force extra time.

Penalties were also needed here to decide who would be the last team in the next round. After both sides converted their first three spot kicks, the crucial moment came in the fourth round. Yassine Benzia’s effort was thwarted by Davy Roef to give Gent the advantage. Cederick Van Daele scored the fifth penalty as Gent completed the comeback to move on. Next for Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s side will be Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir.

Since both Anderlecht and Gent won their respective matches on the night, the pair won 0.800 coefficient points for Belgium, 0.400 each. That brings the country’s total up to 11.400 on the year, which is the second largest ever after the previously mentioned 2016/17 season. Then, Belgium won 12.500 points. Three more wins will break that record. Belgium remains eighth in the five-year ranking, which is where they will be at season’s end.

It is also worth remembering that Union St. Gilloise is still left in Europe. Having won their Europa League section, they were idle during the knockout playoffs. In the round of 16, USG will face Union

Berlin once more. The pair met during the group phase, with both sides winning 1-0 away. Finally, Club Brugge will look to overcome their 2-0 deficit against Benfica in the Champions League round of 16.

Netherlands under more pressure, loses two clubs

It was another dismal week for Netherlands in Europe as both Ajax and PSV were knocked out of the Europa League. Things take a more drastic turn for the Dutch as a result.

In what was always going to be a tough ask, PSV hosted Sevilla after losing the first match 3-0 in Spain. Once again, the Eindhoven club had no problem creating chances. This time, however, they would score. First, Luuk de Jong got on the scoresheet to provide some hope. That came in the 77th minute. Substitute Fabio Silva would add a second in stoppage time, but by then it would be too late. Mauro Junior would be sent off shortly after for PSV, but it would seldom matter. Sevilla would hold on to progress 3-2 on aggregate.

Following that game, Ajax took to the field against Union Berlin. As neither side found the net In Amsterdam, it was still all to play for. The first half ultimately killed Ajax, as they went into the break down 2-0. Mohamed Kudus would half the deficit just minutes into the second period, only for Union to score a third a couple minutes later. The match, and aggregate score, would end 3-1 in the German team’s favour, as Ajax exits the Europa League at the round they entered.

While PSV and Ajax were eliminated, the former still brought in 0.400 coefficient points for the Dutch because of their 2-0 win on the night. That takes Netherlands to 10.900 points on the season, and 57.300 over the five-year period. Sixth place is still theirs in the latter ranking, which is the most important right now.

The bad news for Netherlands is that although Braga got knocked out of Europe by Fiorentina, Sporting CP defeated Midtjylland on the night and on aggregate to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League. The Lisbon-based side brought in 0.500 points for Portugal for their troubles. Portugal remains seventh in the five-year ranking, with 54.716 points. Although they are still 2.384 behind the Dutch, there is still hope of them passing their foes.

Sporting faces Arsenal in the last 16 of the Europa League. As mentioned earlier, Benfica will look to finish off Club Brugge in their Champions League tie. Porto also played last week, losing 1-0 away to Inter in the UCL. Fortunately for them, there is a second game to be had, and they are not out of the running yet.

As for Netherlands, Feyenoord and AZ remain in Europe, since they won their UEL and UECL groups, respectively. The Rotterdammers face Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEL, while AZ has Lazio in the UECL. It will be pivotal that at least one Feyenoord or AZ advances to the quarterfinals if they wish to keep Netherlands in sixth at the end of the campaign.

David Parkes

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