Having handed in his badge as a Ghent police detective last week, SV Zulte Waregem coach Francky Dury is hoping for a UEFA Cup miracle against Newcastle United FC.
Against all odds
The Belgian side have already defied the odds twice in this season's UEFA Cup - first by overcoming FC Lokomotiv Moskva in the first round and then by progressing through to the knockout stage despite being the only semi-professional side left in the competition. With Newcastle standing between Zulte Waregem and the last 16, Dury has modest ambitions. "We want to keep the return leg interesting," said the 49-year-old. "A home win or even a narrow defeat would be an honour. I don't have to motivate my team, we have to enjoy it as this is a one-off experience."
Starting life in the 2001/02 season with the merger of KSV Waregem - who reached the 1985/86 UEFA Cup semi-finals - and Zultse VV, Zulte Waregem made quick progress from the third tier in Belgium to the first under Dury, who up until last week was a policeman as well as a coach. Having won the Belgian Cup last season to guarantee European football, the club had been convinced they could continue as a semi-professional outfit, but with UEFA Cup exertions affecting their league form, it has been decided to embrace full professionalism from next season.
"Last year we thought part-time football would work out fine but it has been extremely difficult," said Dury. "Next season we will train in the morning too. At the moment, we train at 17.00 and there is no time for the lads to practice their free-kicks after training is finished." Dury symbolised this change of approach by quitting his day job and signing a professional contract which will bind him to Zulte Waregem until the summer of 2012. Now the question remains as to whether the club's six remaining semi-pro players will follow suit.
Among their defence, Zulte Waregem boast a teacher (Tjorven de Brul) and an engineer (Stijne Minne) while Stefan Leleu works in banking and insurance. Midfielder Nathan D'Haemers points brickwork, Ludwin Van Nieuwenhuyze lays floors and striker Tim Matthys sells trainers in a sports shop. All of which makes their tie against Newcastle seem like something of a mismatch. As Dury said: "If we had their reserves we would be a top team in Belgium."
However, with a recent 3-1 win against R. Standard de Liège fresh in their minds, Zulte Waregem are confident of another upset. "After the victory against Standard, we have got our morale back," said Dury. "It could be a real celebration against Newcastle. No one even dreamed that we would get this far." If they can continue to be a law unto themselves, the former policeman's charges could yet be celebrating a third European miracle.
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