FEATURE | BeNe in Europe – Matchday 3 Review: A dream for Club Brugge and a disaster for Ajax

We have reached the midway point of the group stages of this season’s UEFA club competitions.

In the weekly roundup for the Belgian and Dutch clubs, here is a look back at what went down and where both nations stand in the coefficient rankings.

Ajax suffer heavy defeat, but the Netherlands continue to rise

After what was a historic campaign for the Netherlands from a coefficient point of view last season, their four continental representatives picked up where they left off this past week. Overall, it was not a bad week once again, but it could have been better.

Things started off in the worst possible manner in Amsterdam as Ajax were dealt a 6-1 hammering by high-flying Napoli. Alfred Schreuder’s side did break the deadlock inside 10 minutes but after that it was all Napoli. Five different players found the net for the Partenopei as the home club’s skipper Dusan Tadic saw red later on in the second half. The result leaves Ajax third in the group on three points, three behind second-place Liverpool.

Thursday went much better for the Dutch, thanks in part to PSV, with Ruud van Nistelrooy’s humbling the struggling Swiss champions Zürich 5-1 away. Cody Gakpo found the net twice more to continue an incredible start to the season, while Yorbe Vertessen also scored a brace and Xavi Simons got one. The club now sit second with four points from two games and have a game in hand on Bodo/Glimt.

In the other Europa League game involving a Dutch club, Feyenoord took a 2-0 lead at FC Midtjylland into half-time; by the final whistle though, the two-goal lead had evaporated, and instead of earning a second straight win, the Rotterdammers had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Both sides along with Lazio and Sturm Graz are all on four points halfway through, but Feyenoord are currently on top courtesy of their superior goal difference.

Finally, AZ were made to work in their Europa Conference League clash with the Cypriot champions Apollon Limassol. Twice did the Alkmaarders lead and twice Apollon responded, but the Limassol team could not find a reply to Jesper Karlsson’s winner in the last five minutes. It ended 3-2, putting AZ on nine points and on the verge of another appearance in the last 16 of the Conference League.

With an overall record of 2-1-1 from the Dutch teams this week, it leaves them with 1.000 coefficient points earned. With a total of 5.500 points earned this season so far, they are still comfortably in the sixth spot in the rankings.

France had a stunning week, earning 1.666 and putting themselves at arm’s length. Their lead is just under 2.000 over the five-year period, making it very unlikely that the Netherlands can overtake them before the end of the year.

Portugal had a rather substandard week, claiming just 0.500 from a Porto victory plus a Benfica draw. As a result, the Netherlands now have a lead of just under 2.500 points over the Iberian country. While that is rather sizeable, that could be considerably cut into should at least two of Porto, Benfica and Sporting CP make the Champions League knockout rounds.

Belgium with a lesser week than the first two, but still in excellent shape

While the third matchday did not live up to the performances of the first two rounds regarding coefficients, it was still another incredible week for Belgian football.

Things kicked off on Tuesday with Club Brugge pulling off one of the biggest shocks of this season’s competition. In what was an incredible performance from Carl Hoefkens’ men, the Blauw-Zwart beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 at home. Kamal Sowah and Ferran Jutgla got the goals, with Antoine Griezmann unable to convert a penalty in the second half. Club are now on the verge of a maiden knockout round appearance in the Champions League as they have nine points; Atletico Madrid, Porto and Bayer Leverkusen all have three, meaning a point at the Metropolitano will be enough.

In the Europa League, Union St. Gilloise also pulled off a stunning result, beating Sporting Braga 2-1 away. Gustaf Nilsson scored both goals for the Brussels-based Union, who came from behind with a 94th-minute winner. That leaves Union top of their section with a perfect three wins from three. Knockout football is in sight for Carel Geraert’s side as a repeat performance in Belgium next week will be enough if Union Berlin, winners of the other group match on Thursday, do not win.

The results in the Europa Conference League were not as kind for Belgium. Starting off at Lotto Park, Anderlecht conceded a late goal to West Ham. It ended 1-0 to the English side, piling further pressure on Felice Mazzu at the Anderlecht helm. The Paars-Wit can take solace in knowing that they are still second in the group on four points. However, Silkeborg are right behind them after smashing FCSB 5-0 in the other game. There is much work to be done in the final three matchdays.

Gent also fell to defeat at home in their Conference League tie. This time, it was Djurgården who did the damage, scoring in the latter stages of the first half to win 1-0. Despite having most of the ball and chances, De Buffalos could not find an equalizer, which could prove costly in the group. Gent are now third on four points although they are level on points with second place Molde. Both clubs are just three points behind Djurgården, while Shamrock Rovers are bottom on one point.

The 2-0-2 record from Belgium this week means that they won 0.800 more points for their coefficient. It also moves the country up to 6.000 points for the season; only four countries have achieved a higher score at this point. Belgium stay ninth in the five-year ranking, making it increasingly likely that there will be an automatic place in the Champions League league phase in 2024 for the Pro League champion.

As for the other competitors, Scotland had another week where they earned no points. That leaves them 1.800 ahead of Belgium in eighth, piling even further pressure on them. Belgium have a legitimate chance of passing them if things do not improve.

Austria had a decent week with a win and a draw among their three teams. That won them 0.600 points though the distance between them and Belgium continues to increase – the Belgian lead is now 1.400.

Finally, Serbia had a much better week as both Crvena Zvezda and Partizan Belgrade won, resulting in 1.000 for the Balkan nation. They are still 3.700 behind Belgium, but they are starting to chip away little by little. A top 10 place is the goal, but ninth is even more important, with the guarantee of at least three teams in a group stage versus only two for the 10th place country in the ranking.

David Parkes

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