FCL Rapide Wezemaal are Belgium's first UEFA Women's Cup quarter-finalists, earning lavish praise from both coach Vic Crabbé and local mayor Dirk Claes.
Belgian football has been in the doldrums lately, the most recent disappointments being the early exit from UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying contention while UEFA Cup hopefuls RSC Anderlecht are their last survivors in either club major competition. So the achievement of FCL Rapide Wezemaal in reaching the UEFA Women's Cup quarter-finals is a real boost.
In 2006/07 Wezemaal became the first Belgian team to progress through a stage in this competition, but they have trumped that by following up their perfect first qualifying-round efforts by going through again last week. The key for the second qualifying round Group B3 hosts was their dramatic 2-1 win against Everton LFC, coming from behind thanks to goals from Kristel Verelst on 72 minutes and in injury time. Wezemaal then lost 4-0 to Valur Reykjavík, but the Icelandic side’s defeats by Everton and Frankfurt left Rapide knowing a point against the German team would take them through. They duly drew 1-1 to earn a quarter-final against Umeå IK. Wezemaal coach Vic Crabbé said: "I think we gained great publicity for women's football and I hope it will open the eyes of the people, and the Belgian FA, and that they will see what we have achieved and will act on that, as I think women's football deserves more attention."
Crabbé was especially pleased with the draw against two-time European champions Frankfurt. "We are extremely happy," he said. "We played against the best team in Europe, and when you can deliver a performance like that it is great. I can only say hats off to my team! Our organisation was excellent, we started with a 4-5-1 defensive [system] and tried to change that into 4-3-3 and the team did an excellent job in carrying that out. We had already seen in our first match against Everton, who are a top team in England, a nation that reached the [FIFA Women's] World Cup quarter-finals, that we really performed well and then I already felt our tournament was a success. And then we finished with a top performance against the absolute giants of Frankfurt, which really makes it special.”
Another giant of the game, two-time competition winners and 2006/07 runners-up Umeå, are next up and in particular the trip for the second leg in Sweden next month will show the team from the city of Rotselaar what European football is all about. But they have already done themselves proud. Rotselaar mayor Dirk Claes, who is set to propose a €5,000 travel grant for Wezemaal to the city council, said: "With this remarkable performance, Wezemaal adds Rotselaar's recongition as a sporting and active city. The club are the perfect ambassadors of our city on the national and international stages. Rotselaar therefore wants to support the club in their activities."