Belgian Football Weekends – Waasland-Beveren vs Mons

Lee Hurrell decided to avoid ‘Survival Sunday’ and opted for a crucial game in Belgium’s 2nd tier playoffs. He reports on the history of Waasland-Beveren and the thrilling game itself

On Sunday 22nd May, I found myself at a Belgian 2nd Division game. After seeing a tweet from John Chapman, aka @BelgoFoot, about a good result for Waasland-Beveren in the 2nd Division playoffs, I mentioned that it’s good to see Beveren on the up again. John informed me that it wasn’t the same club as before, but the result of two clubs merging. I, like a lot of football fans, had heard of K.S.K. Beveren from the days of their linkup with Arsenal, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of them.

History of the club

After researching the new club, I found out that they are the result of a merger between K.V. Red Star Waasland (formerly K.V. Red Star Haasdonk) and K.S.K. Beveren. The club has retained the history of Red Star but plays out of K.S.K. Beveren’s former home, the Freethiel Stadion.

K.S.K. Beveren were well known producing some of Belgium’s best keepers, such as Jean-Marie Pfaff (64 caps, also over 150 appearances for Bayern Munich), Filip De Wilde (33 caps) and Geert De Vlieger (43 caps).

The previously mentioned linkup with Arsenal, that started in 2001, is what brought them to the attention of the wider footballing world and also ended up bringing about the club’s downfall. Well, to say the Arsenal link brought about the club’s downfall is only telling part of the story though, it’s more to do with the tie-in that Beveren had with the ASEC Mimosas academy in the Ivory Coast.

Yaya Toure - former star of Beveren. Not wanted by Arsenal.

The ASEC Mimosas academy was ran by Jean-Marc Guillou, a former French international who once managed Cannes with Arsene Wenger as his assistant. Guillou’s academy educated and trained young Ivorian’s before placing some of them at Beveren. This was due to the relaxed Belgian work-permit regulations that would allow players to gain an EU passport after only 2 years residency, thus making them more attractive buys for bigger clubs.

Arsenal’s involvement in this was to cherry-pick the best Ivorian talent from Beveren (they took Emmanuel Eboue, but turned Yaya Toure away after a trial period) and also send their own young prospects out on loan to Belgium to gain first-team experience. The likes of goalkeeper Graham Stack, Steve Sidwell, John Halls, Liam Chilvers and Igors Stepanovs made the move although most of those players didn’t even end up playing a game. Stack and Stepanovs both made over 20 appearances each. Stack’s spell included him becoming a cult-hero after punching a pitch-invading fan from local rivals Royal Antwerp.

Some of the Ivory Coast’s biggest names cut their teeth at Beveren and their 2010 World Cup squad included 6 former Beveren players; Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Emmanuel Eboue, Romaric, Arthur Boka and Boubacar Barry (best known for being Tupac Shakur’s doppleganger).

The Ivorian influence was heavy on the team and drew criticism from senior figures in the game, including Michel Platini, who in 2004 said the following:

“What about those clubs that buy their players abroad. Is it okay that there are a dozen Africans playing for Beveren in Belgium? I mean, why do they still call themselves “Beveren”? Why do they still play in Belgium? The European clubs who open training centres in Africa do it to further their own interests, not to help with the development of African football.

“It should be Africans themselves who take charge of their own development by investing the money they receive from Fifa for example. Otherwise, who’s going to train up the kids in Europe? Why should a young kid in Beveren bother working hard at his football if he has no chance of pulling on his local club shirt?” 

FIFA ended up investigating the details behind the Arsenal-Beveren link in 2006, as it transpired that Beveren had been paid £1m by Arsenal as a “loan” via a third party company. The murky details can be read-up on in more detail but Arsenal weren’t found guilty of any wrongdoing in the end.

Shortly before the investigation, Guillou was given the boot, the Arsenal and Ivorian ties were cut and Beveren tried to restore a bit more of a local identity back into the club. In 2007 they finished bottom of the Jupiler League and were relegated to the 2nd Division, where they stayed before announcing towards the end of the 2009/2010 season that they would not be applying for a new professional license and would be dropping to the 3rd division. Then came the merger with Red Star and a place back in the 2nd Division.

The game itself

The match had a lot riding on it, as Mons currently sat 3 points ahead of Waasland-Beveren in the 2nd Division Playoffs with 2 games remaining. A Mons win would see them confirm promotion to the Jupiler League, whilst a W-B win would level things up going into the last game.

I arrived at the Freethiel Stadion and took my seat in the new main stand. The stand is completed as far as seating goes, but the concourse wasn’t lit and the refreshment stands weren’t ready (my half-time involved a walk outside to the carpark to a burger van!). Behind the goal to my right was where the bulk of W-B’s vocal support were situated, with 1/3 of the stand segregated off to house Mons’ boisterous away support. To my left was a decaying terraced end that appeared to be condemned, but it did contain the scoreboard and various fan-banners.

Mons came out of the traps looking brighter, their purposeful passing and pressing penning W-B back in their own half and forcing them into hurried, aimless clearances. The Mons pressure paid off almost instantly as a corner evaded everyone in the box apart from Jérémy Perbet, who nodded in from close range at the back post. Mons continued to keep the hosts under pressure following the goal and right-winger Tim Matthys’ skill and direct running caused panic in the W-B defence whenever he got the ball.

W-B started to play a bit as the half wore on. Jean-Paul Kielo Lezi on the left was the main outlet, but he always wanted to try one trick or turn too many and the attacks fizzled out.

The 2nd half came to life when W-B made it 1-1. A great free-kick from a wide position was headed in by former Germinal Beerschot and Cercle Brugge man Kristof Snelders. The game then went back and forth until Jarju scored a deserved goal. The ball was played into his feet in the box before he showed great composure to side-step a defender and place the ball beyond Michael Clepkens in the W-B goal.

The Mons fans were in great voice and their manager, Dennis Van Wijk was out on the touchline, kicking every ball with his team as they looked to close out the game and seal promotion. Police had formed a barrier infront of the Mons fans to prevent any pitch invasion as the game headed towards the final minute. W-B then won a throw deep in Mons territory and goalkeeper Michael Clepkens made a mad dash for the box. The throw found him at the near post and his header seemed to take Cédric Berthelin by surprise as he could only parry the ball into the roof of the net! The W-B fans celebrated, looking at each other with a mix of delirium and bemusement. A draw would have meant that W-B would have a chance on the last day, but only a slim one.

Having just been punished for a concentration lapse, Mons were then to be caught out once more. A freekick was given away on the edge of the box. The stadium held its breath as Rachid Bourabia lined up his shot. The ball took a big deflection, wrong-footing Berthelin and flew into the net, the stadium erupted. The full-time whistle followed shortly and Clepkens was buried under a man-pile for his heroics.

“We’ve got the whole world in our hands, we’ve got the best damn team in the land” blared over the tannoy as the home fans soaked up an incredible victory with the elated players.

The win left W-B and Mons both on 10 points at the top of the playoffs, with Lommel breathing down their necks with 9. Poor Eupen sit rock bottom, with their Jupiler League adventure lasting only 1 season. Should W-B and Mons both win their final games, they will play a decider on neutral ground. Mons host Lommel on Thursday night whilst W-B travel East to Eupen.

Mons appear to be best equipped to compete if they are promoted. They were the better team from an ability point of view, Matthys and Jarju really impressed. W-B have quite a few players with limited technical skill but had that all important never-say-die attitude and heart, which ultimately won them this game.

Waasland-Beveren are clearly a club going through a rebuilding process. Before all the late drama in the game, their fans were pretty quiet. This may be mostly due to the fact that their support is made up of Red Star supporters but mainly former fans of K.S.K. Beveren. There were plenty of K.S.K. shirts and scarves on display in the crowd. The new main stand was also full of families and hopefully the youngsters will have been hooked by the amazing spectable, giving W-B a new generation of fans for the future.

Through the wonders of medium-wave radio I was able to pick up “Survival Sunday” upon leaving Beveren on the drive home and whilst drama ensued in the Premier League. It didn’t come close to what I’d just witnessed.

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Lee Hurrell writes for Fußball Wanderlust and you can find him on Twitter @FballWanderlust

World Cup Preview – The Group of Death?

And so we come onto the hotly contested ‘Group of Death’. Three of these teams possess a world class player each. Brazil know everything about the World Cup, and now with manager Dunga at the helm they’ve managed to maintain a technically brilliant side and also strengthen their defence. Portugal made a meal of qualification and just about made it through the playoffs, but with Cristiano Ronaldo in their side, they should go far. Ivory Coast are one of the stronger African sides, complete with a deadly front-line, but the injury to Didier Drogba could prove costly.

Then there’s North Korea making their first World Cup appearance since 1966. Outsiders is a mere understatement here. No chancers is more appriopriate.

BRAZIL

Brazil have indeed created ‘the beautiful game’ as we know it. Five time winners and undoubtedly the kings of the World Cup. Renowned for stylish and creative genius, this Brazilian side could be considered the improved article. Why? The defence has finally been sorted out. In 2006, they looked sluggish and were shut out and knocked out by the French, mainly as Zinedine Zidane went on a 1998 style self-imposed rampage.

But this time round, under former World Cup winning captain Dunga, they’ve built the foundations from the back and the new generation have emerged to great acclaim. This could be their year once again

STRENGTHS

The defence. Yes, you heard me correctly. Dunga’s instilled belief into the back four. Captain Lucio, who was the best centre-back in Europe last season, will be looking for his 2nd World Cup win and he brings a certain brutal tenacity to the side. Described as a ‘one-man devastation unit’ by some, he’ll be partnered by Juan and the two have become a reliable duo. Lucio will be the aggressor while Juan will tidy up if needed. Calm and composed, they should be a nightmare for strikers. Maicon could be a key player as well if given license to roam like for his club

Brazil haven’t had the best keepers over the years either but Julio Cesar has changed that. The Inter Milan man is up there with the best. His acrobatic skills are very impressive and he gets the ‘bread and butter’ right as well.

Another side with the trusted 4-2-3-1, the jobs of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo are key. Set up the rest. The front four look deadly. Nilmar, Kaka, Ramires and Luis Fabiano are all certain to be dangerous. Luis Fabiano has made the lone front man role his own and has 25 in 38 for Brazil. Phenomenal and also my pick for the golden boot.

Even the bench looks superb with Dani Alves, Grafite and Robinho all in waiting. Be fearful other top nations.

WEAKNESSES

I’ve struggled to find a weakness to be honest, but I guess one could be that some top players have indifferent club form. Kaka by his incredibly high standards has been fairly average at times. Robinho spent half the season being subbed at Man City but came back strong for Santos. If a youngster from the bench excels, Dunga should do the right thing and drop either. Might not be popular but the correct decision must be taken. I think Nilmar will excel at this World Cup if given the chance.

I think if they were going to be eliminated it would be to a fellow South American side, mainly because Dunga’s strategy is very European, opting for a more direct style. Not that I’m saying the flair side badly either, but teams like Argentina could be their undoing.


Can Fabiano overcome the goal drought?

KEY PLAYER – Luis Fabiano

The Sevilla striker has been unbelievable for a few years now, for club and country. Out and out target man and both teams he plays in work their system around him. Consistently getting more than 20 goals a season, expect him to ravage his way to the Golden Boot, despite being in a goal drought at the moment.

MANAGER – Dunga

A master tactician who believes in defensive strength. Not exactly popular with natives for the change in style but you can’t argue with results. Clean sheets throughout qualifying, decent front men, Dunga’s formation and line-ups is fairly spot on. Considering that Ronaldinho and Pato both failed to make the squad, for one reason or another, it shows the talent Dunga has at his disposal.

ODDS -5/1 (at best)

PREDICTION – I’ve got them down as winners. A perfect balance of style and substance.

PORTUGAL

Portugal are a perplexing side. They have some great attacking players yet struggled to find goals in qualifying. They don’t have many great defenders, unlike previous years and managed to perform fairly well in that department. After recovering from the group disaster and qualifying in a play-off against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they will have to vastly improve if they are to repeat the run of 2006 and a best finish of 4th at the World Cup. Quieroz has certainly divided opinion with his selection and tactics at times.

STRENGTHS

Cristiano Ronaldo has been one of the best attacking players in the world for a solid three years at least now. He mesmerises players with his step-overs and bamboozles keepers with his swerving shots and free-kicks. Possibly the most complete package in world football. Remains to be seen how Quieroz will utilise him. Could be on the left or right wing or even up front on his own. Personally, the further out wide he is, the more he can run infield and cause havoc.

Portugal have a decent centre-back pairing in Carvalho and Bruno Alves, with Pepe acting an intermediary like Rafael Marquez did in Mexico’s opener. All three are very strong defensively.

WEAKNESSES

Quieroz has angered players and the team may not act as a cohesive unit. They lack strikers as well, with Liedson being the best candidate, and he’s indifferent at times and doesn’t scream star quality to me.

Why Duda is ahead of the excellent Fabio Coentrao at left-back is beyond. The weakest part of the national set-up is the manager and it will have to be amended come the end of the tournament.

Injuries have hampered their preparations with Nani being the latest casualty, and they’ll miss his delivery greatly.

KEY PLAYER – Simao Sabrosa

A dynamite midfielder who can create something out of nothing. Amazing that he hasn’t found himself at a bigger club in his career but he’s one of the most effective players in Spain certainly at the moment. Fabulously good at free-kicks (although he won’t take any here) and has a fierce shot on him too.

MANAGER – Carlos Quieroz

Was a great No.2 to Sir Alex Ferguson at United, but he’s found the step-up to management tough. His spell at Real Madrid was forgettable. Only No.2 to Domenech in the Unpopularity Stakes. He could be the reason behind failure here.

ODDS – 30/1

PREDICTION – Could be the first big scalp of the tournament. (Drogba’s fitness depending)

C’OTE D’IVOIRE

Before the draw, I certainly thought that the Elephants would do very well. It is a tough task ahead of them especially with Didier Drogba possibly missing. But they have some gems deep within their squad and should provide tough opposition to the other two big teams.

STRENGTHS

The front three is absolutely superb. We all know how well Didier Drogba did this season at Chelsea, but people forget that Solomon Kalou finally found his feet as well and excelled. With those two players knowing each other so well, it could inspire the rest of the side. Keep an eye out for the right winger in their 4-3-3 system, Gervinho. Super pace and also very creative.

The defence isn’t too bad as well but could find it tough against the other two teams. Kolo Toure and Steve Gohouri are both capable of good performances.

WEAKNESSES

Having said that, other defenders are liabilities particularly Emmanuel Eboue, who would be better off further foward like at Arsenal. Sol Bamba is another example. The Drogba injury could put an end to their chances as he’s that important.

KEY PLAYER – Yaya Toure

The typical anchorman who will be called upon to get the team motoring. He’s been in and out of the Barca side this year but his quality in undeniable. Superb tackler as well, just the sort of player Arsenal need.

MANAGER – Sven Goran Eriksson

Newly installed meaning the Tinkerman has yet to gain any form or cohesion from his players. Not had time to do a lot in his tenure but he knows what the World Cup is like after taking England to the quarter-finals in 2002.

ODDS – 40/1

PREDICTION – The Drogba injury is going to cost them. Group stage exit.

I am not bothering to a North Korean preview mainly for two reasons.

1. I haven’t the absolute foggiest in regards to North Korean football. If I tried to make a half-arsed preview about a side I know nothing about at all. The football team is shrouded in secrecy much like the country itself.

2. I don’t expect them to pick up a point, so I will be merely wasting my time talking about strengths when they will be outclassed.

But what I have decided to is put this link of them visiting the zoo. And also put a picture of the most glorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il. He once claimed 9 holes in one in his first game of golf.

It's all about the confidence for this World Cup, they'll need it

I’ll let you get back to hearing the swarm of mutant bees throughout the games.