It has been over 20 years since a Dutch or Belgian club last won one of the European club competitions and, with the money involved at the top level these days, there are not many sportsbooks offering low CL betting odds this season either. The possible pool of Champions League winners is restricted to a select few now. But could there be a surprise? Or even some success in one of the other competitions this year?
Feyenoord was the last club from the Low Countries to lift a European trophy, claiming what was then still called the UEFA Cup in 2002 after being parachuted in from the Champions League. That wasn’t the last time a team from our nations competed in a final, but there has been no continental success since.
But with the Eredivisie and Belgian Pro leagues steadily improving – and the top clubs making an impact on the European stage – could this be a season to remember? The group stages of all three competitions will begin shortly and we’ve taken a look to see how our clubs might get on.
It is the final season before a major revamp of the competition and there are some clubs competing in the Champions League group stage from both the Netherlands and Belgium that will not be as familiar to fans in other nations. Antwerp won its first league title in 66 years on the final day of the 2022-23 season and has been rewarded with a daunting task in Group H.
An opening match day trip to Barcelona kicks things off and the Reds will also have to face Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto. With all the will in the world, a third-place finish and a transfer to the Europa League is probably all that can be hoped for here. But if that is achieved, those big earlier games will have given the players some much-needed European experience.
The Dutch contingent in Europe’s premier club competition are also not regular participants. PSV has a long history in the tournament and is a club on the rise, so Arsenal, Sevilla and Lens would do well not to underestimate Peter Bosz’s side. PSV has already begun the season very well and could cause an upset in Group B.
Feyenoord may not have played in the Champions League for six long years but a Europa Conference League final appearance a couple of years ago suggested that the Rotterdam club was on its way back. There is history here too and there will be confidence within the young team. A stuttering start to the domestic campaign has turned into a goal avalanche for Feyenoord and a good start against Celtic in the first group game could set the club off well.
Just two clubs from the region in the Europa League (at this stage anyway) but one will be one of the favorites to lift the trophy in Dublin next May, while the other is one of the most exciting new additions to the continental scene in the last few years.
Ajax may well be one of the biggest clubs in the competition this season but it has been a tumultuous time in Amsterdam over the last few years. Finishing way behind the eventual winners in the Eredivisie has been something of a bad habit recently and top players have left the club, once again, this summer.
A poor start to the domestic campaign under new boss Marcus Steijn has not helped and a group consisting of Marseille. Brighton and AEK now seems far from straightforward. A few good wins in this competition and a better run in the league are needed, otherwise it could end up being another disappointing campaign for Ajax.
Union SG’s run to the quarterfinals of this competition last year should act as a warning to any opponent ahead of this season. The revival of the club has been nothing short of incredible and the prospect of facing Liverpool, LASK, and Toulouse will not frighten this set of players. Second place will be the target – and that could be very achievable.
Europa Conference League
Three Belgian clubs are still involved in the Europa Conference League as the group stage begins and all of them will fancy their chances. Club Brugge is the pick of the bunch, with an enviable Champions League pedigree from the last few seasons. Getting out of the opening phase should be only the beginning for Ronny Deila’s side – and then anything can happen.
Less will be expected from both Gent and Genk, although both have relatively favorable groups. Gent should be confident of going through after facing Maccabi Tel Aviv, Zorhya Loransk and Icelandic minnows Breidablik, while Genk have a slightly more difficult task of getting past Ferencvaros, Fiorentina and Cukaricki of Serbia.
AZ is the sole Dutch team in this competition and has been grouped alongside tournament favorite Aston Villa. But with Legia Warsaw and Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar making up the numbers, there will be a lot of hope in Alkmaar.
Dutch or Belgian Success?
The Champions League will probably have to wait for clubs from the Netherlands and Belgian for a little while longer. But there is a lot to be confident about in the other two competitions.
The Dutch clubs in the Europa League, in particular, will be fancying their chances, while any of the teams transferred down from the Champions League should also do well in the knockout stages.
A good selection of clubs in the Europa Conference League should also mean that fans of clubs from the region should get ready for a long and satisfying European club competition campaign this season. There could even be some much-missed silverware to celebrate at the end of it.