PO1 : KAA Gent emerge as favourites for the title
What a ride the 2014-2015 playoffs are ! It seems as if there’s a mad genius drawing up a crazy story with off-field drama and on-field plot twists.
Seven games in (of the 10 games every one of the six teams has to play) three teams were still considered as prime candidates: Gent, Brugge and Anderlecht.
After yesterday, only two teams remain with a third team needing a miracle. AA Gent, a team that has never won the title, are in pole position.
In typical Belgian fashion, AA Gent’s humility continues. Yet, they are 4 points clear at the top with 2 games left to play. Still president Ivan De Witte tries to point to Anderlecht as the main favourite for the title. Coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck also tried to tell reporters about how Standard Liège- Thursday’s opponents – are exceptionally difficult to beat and that in the regular competition Standard did beat Gent at home in dramatic fashion, stealing all three points with two late goals.
There was a little glimmer in Hein’s eyes though, because Gent now has two games of which they have to win just the one in order to crown themselves league champions. Gent have gambled big and have built a new arena they started playing in last season. Even the most optimistic financial forecasts or payments plan wouldn’t have taken a title in account. That Champions League money will come a long way to get them where they want to be : amongst the top clubs in Belgium. Manager Michel Louwagie and President Ivan De Witte probably still think they’re dreaming and wouldn’t want to jinx what is potentially a crowning of their life’s work.
The supporters however are convinced Thursday will see Gent beat Standard and spark a huge celebration. Large screens are being erected throughout the city and people are taking the day off on Friday in order to nurse their hangovers. The team bus already got swamped by hundreds of crazed fans upon arrival at the training ground.
Gent is playing a refreshing brand of football and managed to beat Brugge at their home yesterday in dramatic fashion. With a few minutes to go Benito Raman blatantly missed a golden opportunity but was lucky to head in the rebound. It virtually eliminated FC Brugge from title contention. For a team that spent the best part of the season at the very top of the table and managed to progress to the quarter finals of the Europa League, the disappointment must be enormous. For eight consecutive games Brugge’s opponents were the first to get on the board. In five of those eight games this happened within the first ten minutes. Clearly something is wrong there and Michel Preud’homme , their coach, did not manage to correctly address the issue.
The season perhaps proved too long for them. In modern football, if you want to compete on all fronts , you simple have to have a very broad squad. There’s going to be fatigue and there’s going to be injuries. For Club Brugge, the Belgian cup will probably be the only trophy this year.
At a crucial time in the competition they scored an 0 in 9.
Anderlecht, however, is still in the title race. They had to win against Standard but only managed a 1-1 draw, which means they do not hold the initiative anymore. If Gent beats Standard it’s all over. From Gent’s point of view they HAVE to win on Thursday. Their last game of the playoffs is at Anderlecht. Gent not winning on Thursday would mean the title will be decided at the Constant Van den Stock Stadium, which tips the scale back in favor of the team from Brussels. They have to win at KV Kortrijk, which is a difficult ground to get points on. Kortrijk have lost their coach, Yves Vanderhaeghe, to KV Oostende. The revelation of his transfer came at a horrible time and since the revelation the team got scored on 9 times in 2 games. Vanderhaeghe also declared that Kortrijk asked him not to play three key players because they are on a yellow card. An additional yellow card would have them missing the first games of next year’s season. AA Gent have already protested Kortrijk was looking to field a less powerful team against Anderlecht. They have a very good point.
These playoffs have been so exhilarating and unpredictable that a simple Gent win on Thursday seems unlikely. Perhaps the unlikely will happen and Club Brugge will find themselves top of the league again.
In any case, whatever happens this week, the playoffs have provided a lot of excitement and sold-out stadiums. Mission accomplished we would say.