While for some tonight’s showpiece occasion may lack some of the lustre of past finals, which featured at least one so-called big hitter, the Belgian cup final between Lokeren and KV Kortrijk represents something of an exciting step into the unknown. Lokeren are making just their second appearance, 31 years after a 4-0 defeat to Standard Liège while Kortrijk have never before reached this stage of the competition.
The two sides are evenly matched, even down to the number of supporters they are taking (around 16,000) and it is difficult to pick out a clear favourite. Lokeren coach Peter Maes certainly thinks so, despite the fact that his side have lost just once since the short winter break. In spite of Sporting’s excellent form, of the two sides it’s Kortrijk who will be preparing for life in Play-Off 1 and Maes’ counterpart Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be hoping that his side’s 1-0 victory over Beerschot will prove to be the ideal preparation.
Maes will be hoping for a better outcome than three years ago when as KV Mechelen coach, he led his side to a 2-0 defeat to Racing Genk. In the line-up stood Koen Persoons, who had to endure the horror of his brother Ruben being in a coma after a car accident. Thankfully, he would wake up from the coma and will be at the Koning Boudewijn stadium this evening to see his sibling in the flesh. It has been no easy three years for Persoons, who despite forging a status as one of the better midfield players in Belgium, also had to deal with the premature death of his son Jules, born after just 25 weeks.
“A lot has happened in three years. I have definitely noticed that after something bad, something good always happens. You never forget the setbacks, they are always a black mark on my soul. However, the soul has better things to look ahead to,” he told Het Nieuwsblad.
From a Kortrijk point of view, the excitement is unbridled in and around the town situated in the south-west of West Vlaanderen, close to the French border. Vanhaezebrouck has rebuilt his coaching reputation in his second spell with De Kerels following a less successful stint with Racing Genk. The 48 year-old turned out for both clubs during his playing career and largely echoed the sentiments of Maes when he spoke to Sporza:
“Lokeren are the team in form. They are in a good run and on the basis of that they are perhaps slight favourites. However, a cup final is one match. Then it’s always 50-50. I think that the little details will decide the game. Both teams know each other well. Whoever takes their chances the best will have a big chance.”
The two league meetings between the sides this season both resulted in away wins and both contained plenty of goals ; hopefully this will be repeated tonight as there are a number of talented attacking players set to take the field. Scouts from Everton, Bayer Leverkusen, Sampdoria, Aachen, Sampdoria, Lille, Groningen, Roda JC, NEC, Lierse and Anderlecht will be in the stands to cast their eye over the likes of Benji De Ceulaer – Lokeren’s leading scorer this season and fellow attacker Steeven Joseph-Monrose. The signing of the French under-21 international, who scored in both legs as Kortrijk knocked out Mons in the semi and in both league encounters against Lokeren, was quite a coup and it is difficult to see him staying in Belgium beyond this season.
League meetings this season
Kortrijk 2 -5 Lokeren
Lokeren 1-4 Kortrijk
Lokeren: Copa, Galitsios, Gueye, Taravel, De Bock, Overmeire, Persoons, Leko, De Pauw, Harbaoui, De Ceulaer
Kortrijk: Keet, Capon, Martin, Zukanovic, Oussalah, Pavlovic, De Mets, Nfor, Messoudi, Chavarria, Veselinovic
As the local edition of Het Nieuwsblad says on its front page, Kortrijk have “a date with history” and while neither side can be expected to compete for the Pro League, a cup win tonight would live forever in the memories of the supporters. That there are none of the big five involved is quite honestly neither here nor there.