Still without a coach following Frank Vercauteren's departure for Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazira Club last week, KRC Genk hope stand-in Pierre Denier can lead them back into the UEFA Champions League group stage at Maccabi Haifa FC's expense.
The Belgian titleholders followed up last week's 2-1 loss in Israel with a 3-2 league defeat at KSV Cercle Brugge on Saturday, and go into the play-off decider without Kevin De Bruyne (torn calf muscle) and possibly forward Marvin Ogunjimi (hamstring). New signing Grzegorz Sandomierski, a goalkeeper, is ineligible.
However, as they bid for a repeat of their 2002/03 qualification, when they finished fourth in a group containing Real Madrid CF, AS Roma and AEK Athens FC, they have a steady hand on the helm. The 54-year-old Denier is holding the Genk fort for the seventh time in his career.
The situation has caused some fans concern, but Denier is calm. "The structure of the team is already there," he said. "All we have to do is deliver a side that is ready for the new coach in early September. This vital match comes first and we have to face it, but it's nothing to be nervous about."
Club chairman Herbert Houben was eager to steer attention away from the search for a new coach. "What happened with Frank Vercauteren was not ideal preparation, but the second leg against Haifa is far more important," he said. "This is a historic match for us."
Genk's biggest challenge may be halting Weaam Amasha, a summer signing from Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC. He scored four times – two with his feet and two with his head – in a 4-1 league win at Maccabi Netanya FC at the weekend, having also registered in the first leg against Genk to take his European tally for the season to four.
"I'm glad things have started off well for me but it is more important that we're off to a good start," said Amasha, with his coach Elisha Levy adding: "
He is an excellent striker. He delivers in every match and deserves a lot of credit. He's a hungry player with a great character who will only get better."
Haifa have no worries up front, but defence is a different matter. Croatian Jurica Buljat could be out for two months after dislocating his shoulder, making him the second Maccabi centre-back to suffer a long-term injury this month, with Ukrainian Andriy Pylyavskiy nursing a fractured ankle.
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