KRC Genk have already ensured their passage to the UEFA Europa League round of 32 and they will be joined there by a second Belgian side, SV Zulte Waregem, if they can avoid defeat by FC Rubin Kazan on Thursday.
Formed in 2001 following the merger of Zultse VV and KSV Waregem, Zulte are gradually making a name for themselves at home and in Europe. Francky Dury's side made light of their tender years last term by finishing second in the Belgian top flight, two points behind RSC Anderlect, who pipped them to the title on the final day. The players were nonetheless afforded a heroes' reception on returning to Waregem, with hordes of fans decked in green and red lining the streets.
The 55-year-old Dury is the man rightly credited with Zulte's meteoric rise having transformed them from a third division outfit to regular diners at the elite table of Belgian football. Taking Zulte to the 2006/07 UEFA Europa League round of 32 represented a significant feat for Dury before he accepted a new challenge at KAA Gent in 2009.
There remained unfinished business at Zulte, however, and 18 months later, in December 2011, Dury returned. The visionary tactician would soon fashion a talented squad with an emphasis on youth development, though his most prominent youngster right now is the Chelsea FC loanee Thorgan Hazard, brother of Eden.
With nine goals and as many assists on the domestic front this season, Hazard has been involved in over 50% of Zulte's goals. An adroit dribbler, the 20-year-old has also come of age in the UEFA Europa League, keeping his composure to score from the spot at NK Maribor before striking the equaliser in his side's vital 2-1 success at Wigan Athletic FC.
Key to Hazard's dashing displays has been a shift in philosophy after he converted from an orthodox winger to a playmaker just off the striker, where his technical ability and fierce shooting can flourish. "I feel really good playing as a No10 because I receive lots of passes in that position," said the former Stade Brainois and AFC Tubize player. "It is the position that best suits me and one that I know well. I've been playing there since my youth."
Despite the departure on loan of the influential Frank Berrier, Zulte are enjoying another fine season, sitting fourth in the Belgian First Division, just four points shy of frontrunners R. Standard de Liège. Should they match Wigan's result on matchday six, Zulte will book their place in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase for the second time.
"We have beaten Anderlecht and Standard and are doing well in the Europa League," added Hazard. "It proves we have a lot of quality and character within the squad. There is a vision for what we are doing here. Primarily
I want to qualify for the next stage of the Europa League. It would be reward for all our efforts and a great experience."
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