BeNe in Europe: Knockout Round not off to Good Start

It was a disappointing week for Belgium and Netherlands’ clubs in the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. The first week of knockout play of UEFA’s club competitions saw five teams in action from the Eredivisie and Jupiler Pro League. None of them won.

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

Belgium left without points

While it has been a phenomenal campaign for the Jupiler Pro League clubs in Europe, last week was one to forget. For the second time this season, all of Belgium’s representatives in Europe lost.

It all got started on Wednesday with Club Brugge facing Benfica in the Champions League. Reaching the round of 16 for the first time, Scott Parker’s side was always up for a tough task. Leaders in Portugal, Benfica has lost just one competitive game all season. Despite holding them out for the first half, the two-time European Cup winners ultimately got two second half goals to take a 2-0 lead back to Lisbon with them. A quarterfinal appearance for Club Brugge now looks even more unlikely now.

Moving on to Thursday’s Europa Conference League play, Gent and Anderlecht were involved. The former played in the early kickoff at Azeri side Qarabag. Outshot 14-7, De Buffalo’s thought they would be able to take a draw heading back home. Leandro Andrade’s strike in the 78th minute changed the complexion of the match, as Gent looked for an equalizer. They nearly conceded again, but fortunately for them, the scoreline did not worsen. Davy Roef saved a penalty earlier in the second half, but not even that was enough for Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s side.

In the later game, Anderlecht took on Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. The hosts got off to the faster start and were rewarded nine minutes in as Kiril Despedov’s cross was met with a Thiago header to put them in front. Anderlecht settled into the game 20 minutes in, where they dominated proceedings from there. Unfortunately for the guests, they could not find the net from their 16 attempts in the match. Benito Raman came closest minutes from the end but failed to beat Sergio Padt with his one-on-one.

As for coefficients, since none of the three Belgian clubs avoided defeat, no points were added. That leaves Belgium 10.600 coefficient points this season and 38.600 over five seasons, good for eighth. Fortunately, there is no reason to fear for losing their position. Scotland, right below them in the rankings, has no teams left in Europe. The next best country below Belgium is Austria, but they have one team left and are 4.600 points behind.

It will just be Gent and Anderlecht next week as both clubs will try to overturn their deficit. The one good thing to hold on to is that five of the eight home sides in the Conference League won last week. If that trend continues, it could bode well for the two.

Netherlands halt momentum

Like their Belgian compatriots, the two Dutch clubs also went winless in Thursday’s Europa League action. It was only Ajax and PSV who were in action, but neither could find the back of the net in their matches either.

Ajax took part in the early kickoff, hosting high-flying Union Berlin. In what was their first ever knockout match in Europe, the Bundesliga team had a goal disallowed for handball. While Ajax had 64% of the possession, they could not find the back of the net. In the end, the two would have to settle for a 0-0 draw. The tie is finely poised heading into next Thursday’s decider in the German capital.

PSV played the late match, facing Sevilla away. Record holders of the Europa League, it was always going to be a tough task for Ruud van Nistelrooy’s PSV team. It proved to be exactly that, as goals from Youssef En-Nesyri, Lucas Ocampos and Nemanja Gudelj saw Sevilla come away as 3-0 victors. PSV was not without chances, mustering 14 efforts on their opponent’s goal. In the end, they could not beat Yassine Bounou. It will be an uphill climb for the Eindhoven side to move on.

Unlike Belgium, Netherlands did earn some coefficient points this week courtesy of Ajax’s draw. That gave them 0.200 points from the week. The seasonal total for the Dutch now stands at 10.500, while the five-year coefficient sits at 56.900. Netherlands remains sixth in the latter, though Portugal is still chasing them.

Benfica’s previously mentioned win at Club Brugge, alongside Sporting CP’s draw at home to Midtjylland, gave Portugal 0.500 points on the week. Matching Netherlands’ seasonal haul of 10.500, the Portuguese are now 2.684 points behind the Dutch in the five-year ranking. Next week could very well present Portugal an opportunity to make some serious headway in their pursuit in catching their rivals for sixth place.

It will once again be Ajax and PSV for Netherlands, both in action next Thursday. Sporting CP and Braga, who lost 4-0 at Fiorentina last week, will also play on Thursday for Portugal. Porto will head to Inter in the Champions League clash on Wednesday with the chance to win some vital coefficient points for their nation.

David Parkes

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