Anderlecht 1-1 Zulte Waregem: Captain Biglia secures the league title
Anderlecht drew 1-1 with second-placed Zulte Waregem to clinch a 32nd Belgian title on a dramatic final day in Brussels, during which the reigning champions trailed and went down to ten men.
Before the game, Anderlecht gave Marcin Wasilewski, for once reduced to tears, an emotional send off and the fans also paid tribute to their former president Constant vanden Stock, father of current chairman Roger. When we got underway after what has seemed an interminable length of time since the penultimate round of games on Thursday, we were treated to Anderlecht dominating possession. Zulte Waregem were happy to let them as not for the first time this season, Paarswit failed to test the goalkeeper in the opening stages of the game. Jonathan Delaplace, who is leaving in the summer, had clearly been designated as the main spoiler and he was guilty of a number of fouls on the fired-up Matias Suárez in the first half.
There was a nervous moment for Anderlecht when Mbaye Leye put the ball across the six-yard box but with Proto stranded, Safari cleared the ball away. A few minutes later, Thorgan Hazard landed a free kick on the roof of the net after Conte had been felled by Gillet. Belgium rightback Gillet headed a Biglia set-piece straight at Bossut before Bram Nuytinck’s header struck the crossbar on the stroke of halftime. Dury decided to roll the dice and bring Berrier on for Conte at the break.
Zulte Waregem took the lead just over ten minutes into the second half. Hazard looked to have dribbled the ball into a dead-end but he had the presence of mind to find Leye. The Ebony Shoe winner stood the ball up to Naessens at the back post and the forward, so often criticised for his poor finishing, produced a superb header back across goal and beyond Proto to raise hopes of a quite incredible achievement.As champions often do, Anderlecht struck back almost immediately. Following a foul from goalscorer Naessens, Anderlecht won a free kick just outside the box. As ever, it was Biglia who assumed the mantle and his free kick deflected off the hand of Leye and ricocheted into the net beyond a wrong-footed Bossut. It was a hugely significant moment – not just in the title race as it meant les Mauve et Blanc were once again on course for the title – but because Biglia had taken a lot of stick over the migraine incident and the goal clearly meant a lot to the skipper.
If we have learned one thing from these play-offs, it’s that the drama keeps on coming and nothing can ever be taken for granted. Anderlecht weren’t quite over the line yet and with ten minutes left on the clock, they were reduced to ten men. Kouyaté, who was being watched by AS Monaco today, lost the plot and lunged wildly at Naessens. Serge Gumienny, given the nod for the game of the season over “Referee of the Year” Nzolo, had no hesitation in awarding a red card and the Essevee forward was fortunate to escape injury.
The game threatened to seriously boil over as De Zeeuw and Berrier picked up bookings but Anderlecht are well-versed in crisis management mode and the circumstances of the game also meant they could bring on Wasilewski for one final appearance to shore up the defence. Zulte Waregem threw everyone forward, even Bossut, but lacked their normal sharpness in and around the box when it was needed one final time.
Gumienny’s final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation among players, staff and fans alike. John van den Brom had delivered the title in his first season but his team were made to work right until the final minutes of the final Play-Off 1 game. Zulte Waregem were understandably a little disappointed but they will join Anderlecht in the Champions League next season, albeit in the qualifiers. They have enriched the league this season and have been a pleasure to watch. Ultimately they came up short and for the 32nd time, Anderlecht have been the pick of the bunch.
Elsewhere: Third-placed Club Brugge waved goodbye to Carl Hoefkens and beat Racing Genk 1-0 thanks to Carlos Bacca’s 25th goal of the season. The Colombian, who was rather hastily labelled a flop a year ago, adds the top scorer’s trophy to the Players’ Player of the Year award he picked up earlier in the week. Standard finished 4th with a thrilling 4-3 win over Lokeren to give them a confidence boost ahead of the upcoming Europa League play-offs against KAA Gent.