BeNe in Europe: Belgium clubs thwarted while AZ Alkmaar carry the flag

A hectic week of continental football took place as Union St. Gilloise, Anderlecht, Gent, AZ and Feyenoord all looked for a place in a European semi-final. In the end, only one of the five clubs succeeded in their quest.

Here is a look back at what happened this past week in Europe and what it means from a coefficient standpoint.

Belgium: JPL clubs finally thwarted

All good things must come to an end, and that was certainly the case for Belgium’s teams in Europe. The quarterfinals would ultimately be the point where Anderlecht, Gent and Union St. Gilloise faltered.

Last Thursday, Anderlecht kicked off the day making a short trip to Alkmaar to face AZ. Up 2-0 from the opening leg, there was much optimism within the group that they could make a first European semi-final in 32 years. Within 15 minutes, however, Vangelis Pavlidis scored a brace to eradicate Anderlecht’s lead. AZ dominated the match but could not settle the game in 120 minutes. The Dutch side ultimately prevailed 4-1 on penalties. Just like in 2016/17, Anderlecht could not build on a solid first leg, and will depart the European scene.

Union St. Gilloise took to the field in the late matches, hosting Bayer Leverkusen. Having drawn the first leg 1-1, Union had a massive chance at prolonging their maiden European campaign. Yet, inside two minutes, USG was already behind. By halftime, it was 2-0 on the night, making things even more difficult. At the hour mark, Anthony Morís made a huge mistake, giving Jeremie Frimpong an easy finish. That proved to be fatal as Union went on to lose 4-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.

Gent made the trip to London for their Europa Conference League quarterfinal return leg against West Ham. Like USG, De Buffalo’s drew the first leg 1-1. They held their own in the first half, going toe-to-toe with their more fancied opponents. The visitors would take the lead via Hugo Cuypers. Sadly, that would be the most Gent had that night, as Michail Antonio leveled for West Ham before the break. In the space of seven second half minutes, the tie was sealed by the home team, as Lucas Paquetá (penalty), Declan Rice, and Antonio all found the net to give West Ham the victory. It is one round better than last year for Gent, but a first European semi-final will have to wait.

Since none of the clubs avoided defeat nor progressed, Belgium collected no more coefficient points. With that said, however, it cannot be understated how well the JPL clubs did in Europe this campaign. A record 14.200 points on the season brought Belgium up to eighth in the five-year coefficient ranking, with a total of 42.200 points. It is a near certainty that they will stay there past next season as well, as the league returns to the top 10 of the five-year ranking. It will be interesting to see if the five European representatives can build on this showing next year.

Netherlands, AZ keeps going, Feyenoord denied again

It was another great night for Dutch football. Already assured sixth place in the five-year standings heading into the night, there was even more at play.

As mentioned earlier, AZ welcomed Anderlecht as the Alkmaar-based side looked to progress to the semifinals a year after losing in the last 16. Deposits losing the first match 2-0, there was reason for confidence from AZ, who had won all of their European home games this season. Leveling the tie inside 15 minutes highlighted their impeccable home record. They mustered 25 shots on the Anderlecht goal on the night, with 37 efforts across the two legs. Thus, their progression via penalties was merited. West Ham is the next team AZ will face.

As for Feyenoord, they headed to Rome with a slender 1-0 advantage. Eager to exact revenge on the Giallorossi, Arne Slot’s side was in a good position to do exactly that. At the hour mark of Thursday’s game, Roma found their equalizer via Leonardo Spinazzola. It stayed that way until the 80th minute, where Igor Paixão put Feyenoord back ahead on aggregate. Just when it seemed the Dutch club would finally get the better of Roma, Paulo Dybala found the back of the net in the final moments of normal time. Extra time came, and Roma looked more energized. Eleven minutes into the first extra period, the hosts got the breakthrough they needed. Stephan El Shaarawy pulled them ahead in the tie for the first time. Lorenzo Pellegrini sealed the deal 10 minutes before the end of extra time as Roma got the better of Feyenoord once again.

While the Rotterdam club could not go through, there is still much to celebrate for Netherlands. AZ moved on, brining in a total of 0.600 points on the night. That leaves Netherlands with 13.500 coefficient points this season and 59.900 points over the five-year period. Even better news came that night, as Nice fell at home to Basel in one of the other Conference League matches. As a result, France has no more teams left in Europe.

As Netherlands is 1.264 points back of the French in the five-year ranking, they could still move past them at the end of the season. Should AZ win both of their semifinal matches, plus the final, Netherlands will finish the season in fifth spot. The reward would be four Champions League spots (three automatic) and seven European spots going into the 2024/25 season. The Dutch also passed France for the start of next year’s coefficient, and it will stay that way should AZ make the Conference League final, Netherlands will start next season in fifth spot.

David Parkes

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