BeNeLook: The Champions League final, BeNeLeague and KAA Gent’s goodbye

Borussia Dortmund had over 500,000 ticket requests for tonight’s Champions League final and 250,000 BVB fans waved them goodbye as they left German soil for the UK. They have over 80,000 fans through the turnstiles at the Westfalenstadion for every home game in the Bundesliga and have won the hearts and minds of just about every neutral. I was at their friendly a few years ago against Manchester City and it was a surreal experience standing in the Südtribune with the fanatical hardcore. There were 31,000 there and yet the stadium appeared empty (the Südtribune was almost full) but even then you could see this was a team with great potential. I’d tipped them to battle for third spot that year with Steve McClaren’s Wolfsburg but that was about as close as the two teams got to each other.

In my eyes, the greatest achievement for Die Schwarzgelben is not their two consecutive league titles nor would it be winning their second Champions League this evening but rather how the club has raised itself from near-death to become one of football’s great success stories. Club Brugge had a lot to do with their downfall. Back in 2003-04, they knocked BVB out on penalties in the Champions League qualifiers in the most dramatic of cup ties. Dortmund had budgeted for the riches of the CL group stages, à la Leeds, and their failure to do so set in motion a train of events leading to financial meltdown as their flotation on the stock market proved to be anything but a success. The figure of that night was very much Croatian goalkeeper Tomislav Butina. Check out the video below to see how he went from zero (one Club fan told me she could have killed him!) to hero.

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There is Belgian interest in the final in the shape of Bayern’s centreback Daniel van Buyten. He played in both legs of the wins over Juventus and Arsenal as well as in the away leg against Barcelona. Tonight the ex-Standardman starts on the bench with Jérôme Boateng and another former Rouche in Dante forming the centreback partnership. Dante has just been capped for Brazil and now admits he is glad his Belgian citizenship didn’t come through.

Daniel’s brother Alain says intoday’s DH that the big defender will be deeply disappointed if (when) he doesn’t get the nod but that he will be calm beforehand, that being one of his most redeeming characteristics. As an amusing aside, their father said they were that close as children they couldn’t go for a piss without each other.

On a final note, wouldn’t it be nice for Belgium to once again host a game of this magnitude? With no European final since 1997 (in the renovated Koning Boudewijnstadion/Stade Roi Baudouin) few, if any other major footballing countries on the continent have gone as long without hosting a showpiece final. Steven Martens seems to have the bit between his teeth but despite Gent bucking the trend (see below), these things are easier said than done in Belgium.

Gent in pole position for Europe

KAA Gent waved goodbye to the Jules Ottenstadion with a 1-0 win over Standard Liège that puts them in pole position for the final Europa League spot ahead of tomorrow’s second leg at Sclessin.

KAA Gent wave goodbye to the Jules Ottenstadion. (Photo: KAA Gent/Twitter)

KAA Gent wave goodbye to the Jules Ottenstadion. (Photo: KAA Gent/Twitter)

93 years of history came to an end in front of an understandably emotional home crowd. Former coaches Trond Sollied and Bob Peeters were present, as were Anthony Vanden Borre (could he replace Rafinha?) and Yassine El Ghanassy, whom coach Victor Fernández will have a tough task convincing to return to Gent.

Kawashima made several outstanding saves to keep Standard on level terms and his opposite number Frank Boeckx was also on his game. However, Standard were often lethargic and didn’t push hard enough for the away goal. Hervé Kage and Ilombé Mboyo were the standout performers for De Buffalo’s and it was no surprise that they combined for the only goal of the game with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Mboyo has now 20 goals for the season and will be hoping to secure European football in the new stadion before he joins Anderlecht or a club outside of Belgium. It was rather appropriate that the man nicknamed “Petit Pelé” scored the final league goal on a ground once graced by the real Pelé himself, back in 1960 when KAA Gent beat Santos 5-2 in a glamour friendly.

The BeNeLeague goes from strength to strength

The first season of the BeNeLeague has been a real filip for women’s football in the Benelux to the extent that from next season there will be one integrated league competition spanning both nations. Four of the top five sides in BeNeLeague A are Dutch but Standard Liège Fémina, who fly the flag for Belgium, are away to FC Twente this afternoon in a match that will decide the destination of the title. A point will suffice for Standard but Twente will be banking on the home crowd to take the victory and become the inaugural winners.

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