The dream of the Europe Play-Offs had its kick-off at KAA Gent’s stadium. A place where we could not win since 2009. On the other hand, the statistics also showed that based on the duels between us, we should be the best of the class in these Europe Play-Offs. In other words, it was an anxious wait and see which data would carry the most weight after 90 minutes during this overture of the nacompetition.
Line-up KVC Westerlo: S. Bolat, M. Fixelles, N. Chadli (65′ Y. Matsuo), L. Van Eenoo (65′ N. Madsen), M. De Cuyper, K. Vaesen (65′ I. Vetokele), B. Reynolds, R. Tagir, R. Neustaedter, T. van den Keybus, T. Dierckx (73′ D. Nene)
Despite a brisk start from KAA Gent, with a header chance for Cuypers after less than half a minute, the initial phase of the match was not brimming with goal chances. It was waiting until the stadium clock ticked away 10 minutes before the spectators were allowed to feather up for the first time for a significant goal chance. Chadli found a cleverly running Vaesen in front of goal, but the latter was just unable to deviate the ball inside the goal box.
Vaesen’s shot on goal clearly brought more momentum to the game and created more goal danger along both sides. Tissoudali and Odjidja took Bolat’s goal under fire and on the other side, Tuur Dierckx tested Paul Nardi’s fingertips with a hard distance shot.
Who did not test the fingertips, but rather the quality of the Gent nets, was Mathias Fixelles. At a moment when the match seemed to be dozing just back a bit, he startled the Ghelamco Arena with a thunderbolt from just outside the sixteen. Goalkeeper Nardi was nailed to the ground, the well-filled Westel away box was jumping a hole in the air at this 0-1.
Fixelles’ goal made the Gentenarians tick, who not much later had to hold their breath again when a bumping shot by Van Den Keybus went just wide. And so a moderately full Ghelamco Arena had to go and drink themselves new courage at half-time, while the Westerlos supporters who had travelled along were still reeling from Fixelles’ unparalleled blast.
Gent looked for and found new courage at half-time. La Gantoise came back from the dressing room full of energy and immediately created a few attacks. At first, Bolat did not manage to get the ball rolling, until Hong finally rang the gong in the Ghelamco Arena with a clever nick on a Cuypers’ cross.
It inspired Gent to do more and less than three minutes later, Kums doubled the Gent score with a low slider, which landed past Bolat in goal via a bunch of Westel legs.
With a triple substitution, coach De Roeck hoped to turn the tide. Chadli, Van Eenoo and Vaesen gave up their places for Vetokele, Matsuo and Madsen. The trio immediately crafted a nice chance a few minutes after their substitution. Via intermediate De Cuyper, the ball was swished in front of goal, but Gent goalie Nardi punctured Vetokele’s header towards Matsuo.
Our Kemphans’ resurgence inspired De Roeck to bring in even more attacking force. Dorgeles Nene threw off his training jacket and rushed onto the pitch in Dierckx’s place. So time was running out, a Westel final offensive was starting to get underway. Nene tried to set that up by eagerly dropping in and immediately putting Nardi to work, but his shot was too weak and too central to really worry the Gent goalkeeper.
Westerlo looked for an opening in the Gent defence, but did not find it. At the other end, Gift Orban discovered a gap in the Westerlo defence. With a flawless blast in the closing stages of the match, he finally turned the lights out. It echoed through the boxes of the Ghelamco Arena that Mia did not lose, but this first match of the Europe Play-Offs was lost in the end for our Kemphans. On to next week, where we will look for our first three-peat at home in this nacompetition.
Report: Glen Van Herck
Photos: Luc Meynaerts