MICHAEL ADUBATO - Saturday, August 16, 2008
FC Dender vs Standard Liege
Eerste Klasse - Saturday August 16, 2008
Florent Beeckmanstadion
Standard Liege started their title defense in style travelling to Flanders and putting a trio of goals past Frenchman Alexandre Martinovic in the Dender goal.

Dieumerci Mbokani, struck twice and Salim Toama added the third for Les Rouches. For the home team, midfielder Steven Jacobs prevented the shutout.

Oguchi Onyewu took up his customary place in the center of defense after missing the midweek clash against Rafa Benitez' Liverpool due to suspension.

The champions didn't take very long to settle into the season on the pristine, finely manicured field because as the clock struck five minutes played, Mbokani stuck the back of the Dender net.

Belgian teenager, recently back from becoming an Olympian in Beijing, Marouane Fellaini, deep in his own half spotted his Ivorian teammate down the other end and arched a long ball to the striker.

Mbokani brought the ball down 20 yards out and as Martinovic left his line to advance, the fast thinking front man chipped over the advancing keeper and gave Standard a very early lead.

The goal obviously made the Dender boys aware that the new season had already started as they pressed forward soon afterwards. A ball from deep left in the host's half was aimed at Siebe Blondelle up the left wing but the big American defender was a step quicker and cleared the danger.

At the 16th minute mark the Flemish team won their first corner kick of the game which was taken by Blondelle. His ball into the six-yard box was momentarily misjudged by Rorys Aragon Espinoza, but the Ecuadorian keeper managed to grab hold of it in the end before the attackers were able to take advantage.

Twenty minutes into the game all that separated the two teams was the early goal as both pressed forward albeit with limited chances.

Onyewu got himself involved in the offensive side of the game when he came forward seven minutes later to take the throw that ended up at Marcos Camozzato's feet. The Brazilian threaded the ball past a couple defenders and found Mbokani five yards out but the French goalkeeper saved the shot.

Barely a minute later, Les Rouches won a corner kick that Toama sent into the box and Onyewu rose to head goalbound, but his effort cleared the crossbar.

The big American tried to get on the score sheet again at the half hour mark as Toama's free kick just outside the area is met yet again by the American's head but this time goes just wide of the far post.

Dender pressed forward soon afterwards and could have leveled the score in the 37th minute when Norman Sylla unleashed a scorcher that Espinoza tipped over the crossbar.

The ensuing corner kick found Khaled Kharroubi, but the French defender opts to hit the side of the net from the outside instead of forcing it past the Liege keeper from a very tight angle.

The last action of the first half came from Dender's summer signing, Michael Wiggers. The ex-Mons man picked out Sylla deep in the Liege box as the Frenchman composed himself as a Frenchmen do, but shot limply from 10 yards out, forcing the Ecuadorian shot-stopper to casually lean over and pick up the lazy ball.

After the restart the hosts leveled the score after just three minutes thanks to a bit of shabby defending by Mohamed Sarr.

David Destorme and Sylla played a one-two on the edge of the box before Sylla spotted Jacobs advancing into the area from the top of the box. The Frenchman slid the pass forward and the Belgian youngster shot around Sarr who obstructed his keeper's view. By the time Espinoza saw the shot, it was too late and the match was tied.

Realizing that being the defending league champions doesn't strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, Liege set themselves to the task of regaining the lead and did just that three minutes before the hour mark.

Mbokani collected the ball wide left in the attacking half and charged into the box, muscling his way between defenders Fred Xaviel and Wiggers. The ex-Anderlecht man uncorked a low shot a from the left side of the six-yard box that Martinovic saved, but was unable to collect.

Both Mbokani and Milan Jovanovic attacked the loose ball but it was the Ivorian who got there first and tucked it away from two yards out to restore the lead.

Midfielder Toama, who missed out on the Liverpool game midweek, was having a solid game and just to let his new Romanian coach Laszlo Boloni know that he deserved a place on the field and not on the bench, the Israeli added a goal of his own minutes later.

Charging into the box, Wilfried Dalmat spotted the run and set up the ex-Hapoel man. Toama struck hard from a dozen yards out that the French keeper parried away but right into the path of Toama who rippled the net on his second attempt.

"I was happy that I played tonight," the Israeli told Yanks Abroad post game. "And, of course, [I'm happy] that I scored!"

Dender continued to press forward but found it difficult to break down Onyewu and his defensive partners, which was evident by Jacobs taking a couple of shots from long range that ended up as goal kicks.

In fact, the leaders were holding onto the ball for longer spells, but also couldn't penetrate the back line, as if it was really necessary at this stage. Toama, Dalmat and Axel Witsel gave a ball passing class on the edge of the Dender box, frustrating their hosts who were running out of time to get anything from the game with less than a quarter of an hour to play.

Dender's possession was squandered minutes later as the French-Algerian tried to play sub Christophe Copel into the danger zone but his lazy pass was easily intercepted by Fellaini and played forward.

Standard's own substitute could have given Liege a fourth goal but Witsel made a mess of Mbokani's pass that only had to be tapped in at the 87th minute.

Boskamp's men had one last chance to double their tally in stoppage time but Bart Van den Eede's free header epitomized Dender's night, and went way wide as refree Stephane Breda blew his whistle for full time.

"It was a good victory for our first game of the season," Onyewu told Yanks Abroad later. "[But] we couldn't have done better considering [the past week]."

"Some of the players were fatigued due to the Liverpool game on Wednesday, so there were a lot of heavy legs out there."

The big American, who flies stateside Sunday to join up with his national teammates continued, giving his appraisal of the game.

"I'm really happy to open the season with the three points. The game was always going to be tough, especially considering that we played Anderlecht last weekend, then Liverpool midweek and the season opener being an away game."

"Dender was very well organized and they continued to press us throughout the game. Fortunately we resisted the attacks successfully for 90 minutes. I'm happy with the win."

Onyewu will be available next weekend to face Westerlo in their home opener but Coach Boloni will have to decide if his central defender has sufficiently recovered from his trans-Atlantic journey to Guatemala.

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