MICHAEL ADUBATO - Thursday, March 29, 2012
With a 16 team league and all teams having played each other home and away already, realistically the Pro League season is over in Belgium.
But ending a professional season in March would be quite ridiculous, so the Belgians have adopted an American idea - the play-offs!
Yes, play-offs do exist in European soccer, but to find a winner in competitions such as the Europa League and the Champions League but not do determine the winner of a nation's title. Well, it does happen in Belgium and this is how it works.
The Belgian Pro League has 16 teams, as mentioned. At the end of their 30 game season, play-off groups are determined. The top six teams will play each other home and away to determine the champions. But don't for a minute think it's that easy! Sacha Kljestan and his Anderlecht would have been crowned champs if things were normal in Belgium, but they're not. Anderlecht finished with 68 points, just ahead of Club Brugge on 62 points. Right behind them is Mix Diskerud and his Gent team who finished on 56 points.
Now you would think that the boys from Brussels have a pretty good lead and with ten more games to play, home and away against the other top teams, that they'd most likely walk away with the title.
Wrong again! The Belgian FA thought that it would be a great idea to cut every team's point total in half. Don't ask me why because I'm as clueless as you. So instead of having a six point, or two game lead over Brugge, les Mauves are just three points ahead. Gent are only six points, or two games behind instead of 12 points. So you see, the title really isn't in the bag.
Perhaps this makes for a more exciting play-off and will perhaps gets cheeks in the stadium seats that may not have been there already.
Hold onto your seats because the Belgian play-offs start up this weekend. Kljestan and Anderlecht will face sixth place Kortrijk (23 points), while Diskerud and Gent host fourth place Standard Liege (26 points) over in Flanders. Diskerud will more than likely miss out on the opening game as he makes his way back to from the USA after an unsuccessful attempt with the U-23s to get the team into the 2012 London Olympics.