Zulte Waregem 4-3 Anderlecht: Thorgan Hazard shines amidst the chaos
Franck Berrier’s stoppage time header in his last game for Zulte Waregem proved to be a dramatic ending to one of the most incredible league games in Belgium in living memory. Thorgan Hazard was the outstanding player on the pitch with three assists to add to his opening goal as Essevee left Anderlecht coach John van den Brom and his nine men dumbfounded after the final whistle.
Earlier in the afternoon, Berrier had announced he would be playing his final game for the club he has served with great distinction in two spells although things began to sour following an altercation with Mbaye Leye in last season’s play-offs. It was made clear at the time that there was only room for only one of them.
Zulte Waregem, buoyed by their last-gasp success in Europe in midweek, began on the front foot and sought to take the game to Anderlecht with Jens Naessens and Habib Habibou having early opportunities but it was the away side who broke the deadlock. Luka Milivojevic capitalised on a slip from Junior Malanda and found Sacha Kljestan, who coolly placed his shot beyond Sammy Bossut. Thorgan Hazard then began to stamp his authority on the game with a thoroughly deserved equaliser shortly after the half-hour when he was afforded far too much space by the Anderlecht defence, allowing him to fire the ball past Silvio Proto.
Essevee were clearly the happier of the two sides at the break and van den Brom acted decisively by introducing Belgian football’s record signing Aleksandar Mitrovic in place of Massimo Bruno. The teenager was eager to make an instant impact and soon went close with his first real involvement. That was interesting enough but then the real drama began…
Cheikhou Kouyaté, who is said to be remaining a Mauve for the time being, was penalised for a challenge on Habibou inside the box after the ex-Leeds striker had escaped the clutches of Bram Nuytinck. To Kouyaté’s horror, referee Tim Pots then produced the red card, having deemed the Senegalese to have denied his opponent a clear goalscoring opportunity. After a short delay as Kouyaté tried to come to terms with the decision, Silvio Proto ensured that justice was done in the eyes of Paarswit fans as he kept Hazard’s penalty out.
Hazard responded to his disappointment by going on to give his best display in the maroon of Zulte Waregem. His near post corner shortly after was headed over the line by Olafur Skúlason despite Proto’s best efforts to keep it out. Mbemba came on for Dennis Praet – always the first name to be sacrificed in these situations – and Anderlecht showed the resolve that took them to their 32nd league title last May. Mitrovic exhibited his star quality when he found Suárez at the back post and the Argentine took one touch before beating Bossut. It wasn’t to be the last time these two exquisite players would link up.
Icelandic midfielder Skúlason then found himself in hot water when he was sent off for elbowing Milivojevic, who threw himself into the midfield battle in what was becoming an action film that would break box office records in Hollywood. Despite that, Essevee incredibly retook the lead when Hazard’s corner was met by Karel D’Haene, who produced a magnificent header. The centreback has only scored once in each of the last two seasons but on this evidence, you wonder why.
Mitrovic, meanwhile, was at the heart of everything Anderlecht did in attack. He turned Duplus inside out before firing wide and then chastised himself for missing a close range header he should have put away but he made up for his miss to some extent by heading the ball down for fellow sub Demy De Zeeuw, who volleyed home first time. De Zeeuw has had his critics in Belgium but he would be in my starting eleven.
Anderlecht were growing in confidence and proceed to spurn two opportunities to snatch an improbable win when Kljestan hit the bar and Suárez lost his footing at precisely the wrong moment. Thorgan Hazard and Conte went close for the hosts and it was clear that something was going to give in the dying moments – we just weren’t sure what.
Naessens won Zulte Waregem a free kick just outside the box after Deschacht elbowed him to the ground. Already on a yellow, it at first appeared as if the veteran would escape but his famously outspoken nature got the better off him and forced Tim Pots’ hand, reducing Anderlecht to nine. From the resulting Hazard free kick, Berrier headed home past Proto to spark incredible scenes in the stands. The mercurial playmaker’s stock had fallen in the eyes of many fans but that was all forgotten as he marked his final appearance. Francky Dury, like the rest of us, could barely believe what was unfolding before his very eyes while John van den Brom sat punch drunk on the bench alongside his assistant Besnik Hasi.
I had a hunch Thorgan Hazard would come up with the goods today and the occasion definitively marked the passing of the torch from one playmaker to another. Het Regenboogstadion might not be good enough to host European games but I doubt it’s ever seen quite as good a game as the showstopper we witnessed today.