Monday, 8 April 2013

KV Oostende 1 v 0 AS Eupen

Saturday 7th April 2013
Belgian League Second Division
Albertparkstadion, Ostend
Admission: €14.00
Teamsheet: Free
Attendance: 5850
Match Rating: 3

After fancying one more game abroad before the end of the current season, I decided to take in football for the first time in Belgium, for a Second Division match at a club that was seemingly destined to make a return to the top flight after an absence of eight seasons.

Having booked a very reasonable £19 ferry crossing from Dover to Calais midweek, Ostend is about an hour’s motorway drive in one go, although a very pleasant stop was made in Veurne, just over the Belgian border, enjoying the morning sunshine in the wonderful city square overlooked by the impressive Town Hall and Belfry. The Albertparkstadion is located in the western suburbs of Ostend, about a mile away from Ostend airport and a very short distance from the coastline. Tickets can be bought just outside the turnstile, and the stadium has a fair amount of character with stands of all sorts of sizes and features. Straddling the half way line on one side in the main all-seater stand, underneath which is a spacious clubhouse and a tiny club shop. To the left of the main stand is a slightly smaller stand, part of which in the corner houses the away fans, whilst to the other side of the main stand is a flat standing and refreshments area. Straddling the half way line on the other length are corporate boxes and about a dozen rows of seating in front, with two smaller all-seater stands either side. Behind one of the goals is a modern all-seater stand housing the most passionate Ostend fans – and they certainly would provide a sustained excellent atmosphere before and during the game – whilst behind the other goal is a covered terrace usually given to away fans, although only a handful of persons were present there today. No programmes were produced, but team sheets were freely available from the clubhouse.

When I booked the ferry midweek, it appeared that KV Oostende were in pole position to win the Second Division, leading the division by seven points with four games remaining – indeed, they have led the division since taking pole position in December, won eight of their last nine games and have lost just once in their last 16 games.  However over the weekend, after second placed Mouscron-Péruwelz surprisingly lost 1-4 to mid-table Lommel United and third placed Westerlo could only draw 1-1 to mid-table SV Roeselare, a win today would confirm that they would be champions and promoted to the top flight. AS Eupen, the team from the tiny German speaking part of Belgium, have been on the fringes of the play-off positions for the last couple of months and went into this game in sixth place, five ponts from a play-off place. When today’s teams met back in November, Eupen won 1-0.

On a beautifully sunny afternoon, with barely a cloud in the sky, the game was entertainingly competitive, however disappointingly the nerves of being so close to winning the league today seemed to get to the KV Oostende players, who struggled to play with any cohesion and always seemed to run out of idea when they reached the final third. Indeed, it was AS Eupen who always looked like they had a goal in them, playing the brighter, more inventive football. However, four minutes before the interval, it was KV Oostende who took the lead, when a free kick from wide by Yohan Brouckaert was headed into the net by Baptiste Schmisser. 

Whilst this may have settled the home team’s nerves, the half time interval came at a bad time, and the second half continued in much the same vein as the first. Although Oostende probably shaded possession, Eupen always looked capable of scoring, helped in no small part to Oostende’s keeper looking rather shaky claiming balls in the air. Their threat surprisingly subsided the closer the game came to its conclusion and on the final whistle, it was mission just about accomplished for KV Oostende, whose fans invaded the pitch to join the players in celebrating winning the title and promotion. An excellent, party end to a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the club, that has a pleasant, relaxed feel about it and with support that was passionate, almost constant but never felt aggressive or intimidating. 

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