Both the Belgian Championship and Conference League Play-Offs got underway this weekend as well as the Belgian Cup final.
Royal Antwerp defeated KV Mechelen for the Cup and an automatic Europa League place next season however Sam Vines was still missing from the line-up. The Great Old secured the trophy with a 2-0 win on Sunday afternoon. Due to this final, Antwerp does not start their play-off campaign until Wednesday night when they travel to Brussels to take on Union St Gilloise.
To refresh your memories as to how the confusing Belgian play-offs work, here is a bit of a run-down.
The top four teams have entered the group to become the Belgian Champions 2022-2023 and automatically qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The defending champions, Club Brugge snuck into the number four spot on the last day of the regular season but they’ll not have an easy time in re-claiming the title.
The top four teams – KRC Genk (Mark McKenzie), Union St Gilloise, Royal Antwerp (Sam Vines) and Club Brugge – will play each other twice, both home and away, for a total of six games. The regular season points that each team achieved have been cut in half, which will make the competition a bit more exciting. If the team finished with an odd number of points, the point total will be rounded up.
For the European group, the same happens for the teams that finished from fifth to eighth. Those teams are – KAA Gent, Standard Liege (Marlon Fossey), Cercle Brugge and KVC Westerlo (Bryan Reynolds). The winner of the group will play the fourth-place finisher n the top group and whoever wins that will claim a Conference League place later in the year.
Before any play-off ball was kicked, the groups looked like this:
Here are the results of the three games that were played over the weekend.
Genk 3 – 1 Club Brugge
Genk got their play-offs off to an excellent start, putting three past the defending Belgian champions while only surrendering one. Mark McKenzie went the distance for the Smurfs and also contributed with a second-half goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
It was the champions however who struck first after just nine minutes, thanks to Belgian international, Hans Vanaken. A ball from the left wing picked out Andreas Skov Olsen at the top of the box. The Dane adjusted his feet and slid the ball to Vanaken who fired into the far post past the diving Genk keeper.
Nine minutes later it was all tied up again when Colombian international Daniel Munoz headed the ball into the back of the net from six yards out. Then it was the Yank who put his team ahead ten minutes after the intermission. Off a corner kick, McKenzie out-jumped a pair of defenders and drilled the ball into the back of the net to give Genk a lead that they would not surrender.
Joseph Paintsil put the game to bed in the 83rd minute when he picked up a pass on the right wing, shrugged off Jome Spileers, charged into the box and fired just inside the far post. The win puts them three points in front of USG, who have yet to start their play-offs campaign. Up next for Genk will be a Sunday evening kick-off against Royal Antwerp.
Gent 3 – 1 Westerlo
Despite taking an early lead, Westerlo let it slip away, losing this one by three goals to one in East Flanders. Bryan Reynolds went the distance on the back line for KVC.
It took almost a half hour before the deadlock was broken in a game that the hosts dominated in possession, shots, and of course, goals. Mathias Fixelles got the scoring underway in the 27th minute after he was allowed to run down the middle of the field for about 20 yards unopposed. He decided to pull the trigger before he made it to the top of the 18 yard box and fired it beautifully into the top right hand corner of the net.
The visitors were able to take the lead into the locker room at half time but the hosts got to work soon after the re-start and seven minutes in, were celebrating the equalizer. Hong Hyun-Seok picked out Hugo Cuypers who returned the ball to the Korean, and he put it into the back of the net from close range.
Three minutes later Sven Kums was celebrating his go-ahead goal after a poor clearance that ended up at his feet at the top of the box. He easily put it past the stunned keeper. And then there was the third and final one that Emmanuel Orban hit into the top righthand corner.
Next up for Westerlo is a home game against Cercle Brugge on Sunday afternoon.
Cercle Brugge 0 – 0 Standard Liege
Marlon Fossey was in the starting line-up for les Rouches when they travelled to Brugge to take on Cercle in their play-off clash. Although there was a lot of action, there were no goals to speak of. Standard will try again over the weekend however when they host group leaders Genk.
The second round of action gets underway this coming weekend.