A Belgian league defeat at promoted SV Zulte-Waregem on Sunday brought Club Brugge KV back to earth with a bump following their midweek UEFA Champions League exploits; a thrilling 3-2 victory over SK Rapid Wien having guaranteed European football for the Belgian champions into the new year.
The post-match talk centred on whether Club Brugge should content themselves with the UEFA Cup place already secured, or dream of usurping one of Group A's big two to prolong their UEFA Champions League participation. Juventus and FC Bayern München remain favourites to advance to the knockout phase, although Brugge stand three points adrift of the pair, perfectly poised to take advantage of any slip-ups.
The players, however, are realistic. Captain Gert Verheyen, scorer of a sublime goal against Rapid, said: "The top two are on a different level to us. We're already happy to have the UEFA Cup place which is great for the team and the supporters." Club Brugge's next fixture is in Turin before they complete their group campaign at home to Bayern in early December. Verheyen added: "For the remaining two matches we will try to be what I call 'the devil who comes out of the box' trying to surprise Juventus or Bayern. I see this possibility more when we're at home to the Germans, even more so if they've already qualified."
Coach Jan Ceulemans counselled caution, though: "To dream is beautiful, but we have to remain realistic." It was impossible for his players to be anything but realistic after losing 2-1 to Zulte-Waregem, a result which lifted the victors above the Bruges-based club. Croatian striker Boško Balaban, who scored one and created another against Rapid, was incredulous at the reduction in performance in the space of four days. "It was a complete contrast to the European match," he said. "Against Rapid we found each other without needing to look, but this game was a total disaster, really painful to play in."
Goalkeeper Tomislav Butina, Balaban's compatriot, went further in his criticism of the display. "If we carry on playing like this we can forget about qualifying for the Champions League next year." The one source of encouragement was the goalscoring return of talismanic striker Rune Lange after a long lay-off following calf surgery. The Norwegian, who served notice of his sharpness with five goals in two appearances for the reserves, struck within 15 minutes of coming on as a substitute, and his availability bodes well for Club Brugge's European aspirations.
Midfielder Sven Vermant and company will hope the Zulte-Waregem setback was a mere blip. After the Rapid match, Vermant told uefa.com: "I was very proud out there, it was very emotional to be on the pitch as a Brugge player and it was important the supporters went home happy. We've had a lot of changes since last season and it is difficult to incorporate new players, but we've got a good team and we're getting to know each other better and better."
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