MICHAEL ADUBATO - Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Anderlecht vs Club Brugge
Eerste Klasse - Sunday April 15, 2018
Stade Constant Vanden Stock
Kenny Saief and Anderlecht rode a lone second-half goal to a victory over Club Brugge over the weekend as they have now come into touching distance with the Belgian league leaders.
In the third weekend of the play-offs Club Brugge travelled to Brussels to take on defending champions Anderlecht in one of the biggest games on the Belgian soccer calendar where the hosts were able to pull off a 1-0 win over Club to close the gap to three points.
Florida-born Kenny Saief started in the midfield for les Mauves, while Colorado native Ethan Horvath found himself on the bench for the visitors.
Before kick-off, Anderlecht stood at six points behind the league leaders in the third of the 10 playoff games. This game was either going to make it difficult for anyone to catch the boys from the Venice of the North with a nine-point lead or close it to just a game ahead of the pack.
This derby, to Americans anyway, would have been billed as a battle between two Americans except for the fact that Ethan Horvath had fallen out of favor after some questionable ball handling both for Club and country. Kenny Saief, on the other hand, has been an integral part of the Brussels' midfield since his move from KAA Gent at the beginning of the year.
On a spring night in the west of Brussels, the game got underway and Anderlecht won a first-minute corner that was cleared, though it showed intent. Brugge countered down the other end when Abdoulay Diaby sprinted past two defenders and got off a sweet shot that bounced off the crossbar.
Saief made his first of many runs in the eighth minute, running around a couple of Club defenders and into the 18-yard box where Dion Cools coolly brought him down but all that was given was a goal kick that keeper Vladimir Gabulov claimed stalled in taking.
After another Anderlecht corner, Pieter Gerkens played it to Lazar Markovic who gave it back to the Belgian in the box. The shot to the near post threatened but the Russian keeper parried it away for a corner. Josue Sa got the shot off from six yards out but right at the keeper, who knocked it away but no purple shirts were there to tuck it away.
Club settled down and had a spell of possession where les Mauves couldn't get a touch on the ball, that is until they broke free and Lukasz Teodorczyk beat the off sides trap and danced around the yellow shirted visitors in the 18-yard box waiting for help to arrive. Before it did, however, a pair of defenders dispossessed the big Pole.
Anderlecht had a good chance of lighting up the scoreboard in the 21st minute when a through ball found Gerkens making the run. A burst of speed from Matej Mitrovic, however, saw him catch up and push the ball away as the Belgian crumbled to the ground and pleaded for a penalty. Instead, the referee awarded a goal kick.
Minutes later the gang from the capital city was at it again, breaking down the field, led by Gerkens. The ball ended up at Markovic's feet and the Serb's shot hit Gabulov square in the chest. He was unable to hold onto it but again, there were no purple shirts on hand to slot it home.
The American found his Polish colleague inside the box but the shot was close enough to the Russian for him to make the save. This was followed by a Brugge half-chance at the other end as Ruud Vormer, the current top goal-getter in the league had a clear look at the target but Adrien Trebel closed him down quickly and the effort ended up somewhere in the cheap seats.
Just past the half-hour mark, Teodorczyk saw another of his efforts saved by the Russian GK, who was riding his luck with the shots he blocked but just could not keep hold onto. Trebel then tried a long-range shot that was hit hard and true but too high over the crossbar. Gabulov eventually placed the ball down for the goal kick. He'd been taking his time, much to the annoyance of the hometown fans but the referee continued to do nothing about the time wasting.
The Blue-Blacks had one more shout just before the half but Anthony Limbombe's shot was saved by Matz Sels, between the sticks.
The second half started with the sun having already left Brussels, probably due to an appointment in a country further south. It wasn't needed for the Anderlecht fans their faces lit up however and cheers erupted throughout Constant vanden Stock Stadium when Trebel's free-kick picked out the head of his six-foot-one Polish teammate, who beat his marker and finally beat the Russian netminder.
After the goal and a short spell of Club possession, Anderlecht took charge again. Diaby did have a chance at one end and then Saief at the other.
At the 64 minute mark, my Japanese journalist colleague smiled as Markovic came off and Japanese international Ryota Morita came onto the field of play. Ten minutes later he could have had his name on the score sheet after latching onto a through ball but not hitting it with enough gusto to trouble the keeper. He was also denied an assist when his ball from the right across the face of the box was missed by the defenders and more important, by the Congolese second-half sub, Silvère Ganvoula.
A 71st minute Club chance went missing when Anthony Limbombe had his shot put wide for a corner. Taken by Vormer, Diaby had a close-range stab at the cross but Sels jumped on top of it to snuff out any chance of an equalizer.
But in the 80th minute, the crowd fell silent. Diaby was played forward and he forced Sels to come out and casually slid the ball into the back of the net. Goal. But the Video Assistance Referee was called upon and he told the referee that the player was off sides so, no goal.
Brugge did create chances, especially late in the game but even with the five minutes added time they were not able to breach that purple wall and les Mauves hung on for the vital victory.
After the game Yanks, Abroad spoke with Kenny Saief.
"We were really focused for 90 minutes and we did our jobs (well). We took our chances (and scored) but we had more opportunities where we could have scored more goals but we scored that one, so I'm happy that we took the three points."
Asked about the goal that Club scored he said, "I knew it. I saw that it was offside but OK. We were lucky that there was a video referee."
Anderlecht hasn't had much luck against their fiercest opponents as of late so this game meant a lot to the team.
"Brugge has been a tough team for us and we knew that this was our last chance to get close to them in terms of points. We took our chances with two hands and I'm very happy that we did it. Now we need to move on, keep on doing a good job and take as many possible points in the upcoming games."
"This game is over and now we need to focus on the next game. We need to take the next three points and try to stay as close to Brugge as possible and take the chance again when we play them (again)."
Up next for Saief and company will be a midweek trip southeast to the Walloon city of Liege where they'll take on Standard, who beat Gent over the weekend to move up to the fourth spot. This will be followed by a weekend trip to Genk before they return home in two weeks' time to face Sporting Charleroi.