The shadow of Mehdi Carcela hangs over tonight’s Belgian Cup Final. Standard Liège’s Carcela suffered horrific injuries in last Tuesday’s match with Genk and he’s told his team-mates – from his hospital bed – to win the cup for him. Standard will start favourites against Westerlo but they will not – or should not – under-estimate their opponents.
Westerlo are unbeaten in 15 matches, in cup, league and playoff; that’s a remarkable record for a team that comes from a small town with 22,000 inhabitants. Its coach, Jan Ceulemans, is one of the most respected ex-players in the country. He’s been Westerlo coach since 1999, except for 12 unhappy months in charge at his old team Club Brugge. Ceulemans was sacked after a run of poor results – terrible treatment for someone who had played over 400 matches for the club.
Westerlo won the cup in 2001 and two of the players that day will be in the team tonight: captain Jef Delen and keeper Bart Deelkens. Westerlo’s star though is Brazilian Paulo Henrique, scorer of 22 goals this season in all competitions. Henrique will definitely leave Westerlo in the summer, probably to France or Italy. Another player to watch is Ukrainian Olek Iakovenko, on loan from Anderlecht. He’s hoping to be welcomed back to the Brussels club next season but that appears unlikely.
Standard Liège have not won the cup for 18 years; Marc Wilmots, Régis Genaux and Philippe Léonard were all in the team that day. Tonight, Standard will be supported by 25,000 fans – their allocation – in a crowd of some 40,000 at the Roi Baudouin stadium. Without Carcela – a major loss – Axel Witsel will probably start on the right wing, although Dominique D’Onofrio might decide to play Regi Goreux. If Witsel does move to the wing, he’ll be replaced by either Aloys Nong or Mbaye Leye.
Scouts are expected from Manchester City, Everton, AC Milan, PSV, Ajax and Dortmund. Doubtless they’ll be watching Witsel and Steven Defour, although Henrique, Abdou Camara, Sinan Bolat and Mémé Tchite could also figure on several clubs’ lists.
If Standard win, it will go some way towards making up for the loss of the title; if Westerlo win, there will be thousands of unhappy people back in the Place Saint-Lambert in Liège. And Jan Ceulemans will be smiling and probably spending time with the fans back at the club bar in Westerlo.