Yesterday Antwerp won the Belgian Cup by defeating another Antwerp club Mechelen (2:0) in the final. This is his fourth national cup in history and the second in the last four seasons: 1955, 1992, 2020, 2023.
Vincent Janssen and Michel-Ange-Balikwisha brought victory to the team: one scored from a penalty spot in the first half, the other from a field goal in the second.
• Antwerp won in class
As the Belgian journalists rightly point out, the difference in quality between the two finalists was too great. Favorite Antwerp predictably dominated, Mechelen fought back and tried to counterattack, but in the end they never scored and lost.
However, Antwerp is not happy with how they won. Spectators clearly expected more from a team that scored five unanswered goals against Mechelen in March. Head coach Mark van Bommel is not surprised: “A lot of people are nervous in the final. In addition, Mechelen had a game plan, which they expectedly built after that 0-5 defeat.
Defender Richie de Lat agrees with him: “Yes, this is not our best match, but the finals do not always turn out like that. The final is a match that you just need to win at all costs. And we did it, proving once again that we are very difficult to beat when we are leading.”
Antwerp sporting director Marc Overmars, who won the trophy for the first time in Belgium, saw another reason for the weak game: “The grass was not cut or sprayed, which made the ball roll badly.” This, by the way, is not a whim, but a fair claim.
• What did Mechelen lack?
“Antwerp have a mature and better team than ours. We tried to answer her with something, but it didn’t work out, ”says Mechelen winger Jeffrey Hiremans. The strength of the neighbor is also noted by his partner Nicola Storm: “We were looking forward to this final, but we have to admit that we had a very cool opponent.”
According to midfielder Rob Schofs, Mechelen had to “jump over their heads and play incredible to get the cup.” That did not happen.
• Antwerp made a substitution
Michel-Ange Balikwisha came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute and put an end to the match in the 81st. Van Bommel rejoices at both his goal and the fact that he can alternate wingers: “We have three great wingers: Balikwisha, Muya and Kerk. And that’s my advantage as a coach.”
Balikvisha replaced the author of the first goal. Janssen was unable to continue the game. After the match, he reassured the fans: “Nothing serious happened. Lately I have missed a few matches [due to injuries] – and this has affected [well-being].”
• Antwerp unhappy with play-off schedule
Already on Wednesday, the club will play in the first round against Union. “CBFA could have planned it differently,” says van Bommel. Captain Toby Alderweireld doesn’t like it either: “There are questions about who is responsible for scheduling. We should be able to celebrate winning the trophy.”
And other players made it clear that Antwerp would take advantage of this opportunity anyway. “We’re going to have a party,” de Lat said, but stressed that “the team is reasonable enough and understands the importance of Wednesday’s game.”
“Let them have fun, the main thing is that they go to bed on time,” said Overmars. Janssen hinted that the team was not going to follow such an instruction: “Mark would be better off turning away.”
• Van Bommel received his first medal as a coach, but took it off his neck. Why?
The journalists noticed that the Antwerp head coach immediately pocketed the prize. Mark, smiling, explained: “When I won the Champions League, I lost a medal because I was jumping a lot. So I decided now to make sure that this does not happen again.
The Belgian Cup is an important achievement for Mark as it is his first coaching trophy.
“Now nobody can say that I didn’t win anything as a coach,” says van Bommel. “I’ve been hearing this more and more in recent weeks, but people just forget that this is only my second full season!”
• Antwerp keep chances for double gold
The team has already guaranteed itself a place in the Europa League, but is not going to stop there. “We did not go to the championship playoffs just to participate in it. We can surprise,” says Captain Alderweireld. “This team wants more,” warns de Lat.
In the playoffs, Antwerp are five points behind leader Genk right now (but Genk, unlike him, has already played in the first round), so there are real chances to impose a fight for the championship. The last time the gold double in Belgium was done by Brugge – it was back in 1996.
“In the playoffs, we want more than third or fourth place. I’ve never won a double, so I’m curious if we can succeed,” Janssen said.
• Mechelen was not helped by a tactical innovation
In April, when the regular championship in Belgium was coming to an end, Mechelen head coach Steven Defour changed the usual 4-2-3-1 formation to 3-5-2. He used it in the final too. The forward duo formed Storm and Mrabti. They could not cope with Alderweireld and Pacho.
“It was our third game with this formation and at times I felt like we were using the space better than in the first game [with this arrangement] against Gent. But when you’re playing against a team with so many shutouts, you need to take advantage of those rare moments. In the match against Anderlecht we managed to do it, but not here,” says Storm.
• Antwerp’s defense is top notch indeed
Yes, Mechelen could not come up with much in attack, but Antwerp’s numbers are still impressive: the team played a clean sheet for the 26th time in 46 matches this season. In all cases, the goal was defended by Jean Butet. The goalkeeper is modest once again: “Yes, this is a nice bonus, but football is a team game.”
Here, Bute really had little work to do. Jean didn’t have to make saves and that says a lot. Van Bommel is proud of the team’s “style of play and defensive strength”.
“Our game plan worked and we played reasonably well, but there was always something going wrong in the last zone. Because of this, we almost did not create a threat. In the second half, they tried to push, because they wanted to give everything for the club and the fans, but after the second conceded goal, it was all over, ”says Mechelen lateral Sandy Walsh.
• Antwerp’s path to the cup was more difficult
“We’ve had a tough campaign and that makes it all the more rewarding to win,” Janssen says.
Antwerp defeated Beveren in a penalty shootout, then defeated Standard and Genk, and in the semi-final with Union, everyone again decided on penalties. “Looking back at our path to the final, the award seems well deserved,” says Mark van Bommel.
This factor is also noted in the column by Sporza commentator Eddie Snelders: “They already deserved to win, but their set of opponents confirms this: Standard, Genk, Union. It was much easier for Mechelen [to reach the final].”
And the rivals of Mechelen were Lokeren-Temse (a club from the fourth division), Soren (relegated from the Pro League), Kortrijk (fought for survival) and Zulte Waregem (relegated from the Pro League “. There is a difference.
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