The days when Bruges was once an insider tip among tourists are long gone. Every weekend, the medieval city centre, freed from car traffic, becomes the meeting point for a host of foreign visitors. More than six million are there year after year.
Many come from neighbouring Germany to visit the 118,000-inhabitant city in the province of West Flanders, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 and European Capital of Culture in 2002. The fact that the city has once again made it onto the map of the Champions League raises the self-esteem of those residents who are associated with Club Bruges. FC Bruges, as the club is usually called abroad, will welcome Borussia Dortmund from the Bundesliga on Tuesday(9 p.m.).
Anyone who has already taken part in a total of 47 European Cup competitions – 19 of which in the Champions League or in the predecessor competition, the European Cup of National Champions – has every right to see himself as a regular guest. And yet it is a long time ago that Belgian clubs were perceived as stylistic elements.
With globalisation and commercialisation, the best players moved on earlier and earlier; almost all the top performers of the “Red Devils”, who narrowly missed the final at this year’s World Cup, have long since been employed by the big Premier League clubs in England. It would therefore be an achievement if the current champions could keep up with Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco in a group.
Old star Ceulemans is a realist
“We have to be honest. For Belgian clubs, the Champions League group stage is all about third place and progress in the Europa League. Everything is a different dream,” stresses Jan Ceulemans. The former star player, one of the best strikers on the continent in the 80s and 90s, must know.
The 61-year-old is still intensively following European club football, and Ceulemans knows how the balance of power has shifted in favour of the few global players. “Money may not be a guarantee of success, but it increases the chances of success. Financially, Belgian clubs could not even begin to keep up with the big leagues. History is the encouragement when Bruges plays against BVB in the Jan Breydel stadium: in 2003 the “Blauw en Zart” shocked Borussia in the play-offs to the top league, after which they tumbled into the big (financial) crisis.
Belgium’s national players almost all abroad
Nowadays the economic and sporting differences are enormous. Most of Belgium’s international matches were made up of Bruges’ squad of striker Jelle Vossen, who played twelve times but was not nominated for the World Cup. There was only one pro from the Pro League in Russia – Leander Dendoncker from RSC Anderlecht.
Belgian football is ninth in the UEFA five-year standings and can therefore send its title holder directly to the group stage of the Champions League. A privilege that neighbouring Netherlands does not enjoy. In 14th place in this ranking, Holland’s champions and runners-up must first make the tedious detour through the qualifying process.
Both PSV Eindhoven (against BATE Baryssau) and Ajax Amsterdam (against Dynamo Kiev) won on the way to the championship. The Benelux countries are thus bringing three starters onto the illuminated stage. Especially for the dying Dutch football, whose “Elftal” recently crunched both the qualification for the European Championship 2016 and the World Cup 2018 gambled away, an encouraging signal.
For Eindhoven, however, it could hardly have been worse. FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan are the opponents in Group B – and the big favourites as well. But what did Mark van Bommel hire in his home club for, please? Van Bommel, once chosen by Ottmar Hitzfeld to be his “Aggressive Leader” at FC Bayern and still co-coach of his father-in-law Bert van Marwijk for Australia at the World Cup, has never given in without resistance.
Van Marwijk also hired PSV adviser, while van Bommel succeeded Philipp Cocu as head coach. For him, the draw was an encounter with his own past, as he played both in Barcelona and Milan (where he played for Milan).
For the opening task in Barcelona at Camp Nou (Tuesday 18.55), the slogan is to pull yourself out of the affair – and not to take a beating. The best known player in Germany from the Eindhoven squad is probably the nimble Mexican Hirving Lozano, who, as is well known, sent the lethargic DFB team onto the boards with his winning goal in the first World Cup group match. Titanbet is neither in the top or in the bottom of the list of the best online casino.