01 September 2023
In the baking oven of Adana, our boys faced a clear assignment. Successfully defending the 2-1 lead we had earned at home last week, we opened the gates of Europe. For this crucial job, Vrancken chose the same 11 names in his lineup. There were two changes for the Turkish side. The veteran Nani was consigned to a place on the bench and Erdogan – not related as far as we know – took his place. Goalkeeper Karacic also was taken out after his questionable match last week as Özbir took his place in goal.
That the atmosphere would be a cauldron was made clear in advance. And the Turks more than lived up to their reputation. Announced or not, our guys struggled with the conditions in the first half. Every Genk ball touch or combination was treated to a chorus of Turkish boos. The home team had to answer the call as well, and they did, supported by a wild mob of some 30,000 supporters. Indeed, the home side was the most threatening in the first half. After fifteen minutes we got away with a misstep as Erdogan was able to cross from the left and Ndiaye shot from close range, but was fortunately clearly offside. For our side, there was not enough quality on the ball on the Genk side in the first 25 minutes. We didn't get further than a few long shots from Hrosovsky, El Khannouss and Sor. It was clear that it would have to show our fighting spirit today, and it would soon prove more than enough. After a cooling break we came out a little better, but we didn't create any real opportunities. 5 minutes before the break, Ndiaye was played through. Vandevoordt was attentive, though, and dove into the feet of the tall attacker, getting a knee full in his face. After five minutes of treatment and with a new clean jersey without blood, Vandevoordt was able to continue - what a warrior our goalie. In the 8 minutes of added time, the game kept going back and forth. After a short corner, Patje threw himself at a cross. “Penalty” said the Spanish referee who saw the ball hit his arm. Vandevoordt was in the right corner, but could not keep the ball out as Ndiaye blasted the rebound. That's how we lost our lead from the first leg, and it was all to play for in the second half.
With the same 11 we clearly started the second half with more drive. But the Turks had also come out of the dressing room determined. Despite this good intent, the second half started less flashy than the first. Just past the hour mark, the ball almost went to the spot after Oyen went down in the area, but the VAR overruled the Spanish ref who had pointed to the spot. A triple change was made to bring us to Europe. Heynen put on the captain's armband again after more than a month and a half as he replaced Hrosovsky. Tolu also came on and Arteaga replaced a battle-weary Kayembe. The renewed energy also led to new waves of attacks from Genk. El Khannouss played in a wonderful ball to the area, but an unmarked McKenzie couldn’t get his effort on target. A few minutes later, Tolu was also unable to give his header enough direction on a tight cross from Arteaga. With 11 (!) minutes of extra time in sight, the Turkish valiant effort was gradually finished. The home team didn't make a dent with their attacks. Genk's chances, on the other hand, came and kept coming. Heynen first played in Tolu, but he just couldn't find the target. Oyen then blazed over from close range on the rebound. Another chance for the equalizer – and therefore qualification – came deep into added time. A strong play from substitute Arteaga delivered a razor-sharp cross to Tolu's head, but the Turkish ‘keeper spoiled our party. Extra time would decide whether we reached the UEFA Conference League.
First half of extra time
The first half of extra time began as regular time ended with one-way football. Heynen - who came on as if he had never been away - almost immediately set up an equalizer for Oyen, but his shot was too weak to threaten the Turkish goalkeeper. A rare Turkish threat almost ended badly for us. Belhanda cut the ball back for substitute Akintola, but the eternal warrior, Muñoz threw life and limb into the fight to prevent him from scoring. The pressure from Genk remained immense with a busy Bonsu Baah who cut in well from the left and forced the Turkish goalkeeper into a diving save. The biggest chance was for Oyen on a corner. But there was also one for Karacic, subbed on for Özbir, but it was easily claimed. Would the last 15 minutes bring redemption?
Second half of extra time
After the first part of extra time, things were stretched for both sides, but we tried to find one more key to the lock. Sadick again proved himself to be a rock and prevented us taking the lead with a much-needed intervention, throwing himself in front of a shot from Niang. Incidentally, fewer chances were put together than there were legs stretched - because of cramps - and after 120 minutes we were ready for penalties.
Face to face with a seething home support in heavy heat, our boys kept a cool head. Belhanda aimed hit the post for the home team, and Heynen - Bonsu Baah - El Hadj - Aziz and Tolu all converted flawlessly. It was 5 penalties out of 5 and a place in Europe was secured! The hell of Adana became heaven for KRC Genk after a blistering evening!
After spectacular scenes in the dressing room, Wouter Vrancken spoke after a quick shower with a wall-to-wall smile at the press conference: “Relief and pride are the big feelings now. The guys worked really hard for this result, they finally got what they deserved. I am very proud of them when I see how they coped with setbacks and how they fought for the three points as a group. They coped wonderfully with the temperature and the fanatical home crowd.”
Whether the team had worked on penalties was also asked of the coach. To ask the question is to answer it, right? “Yes, we trained on penalties,” said our coach with a wink. “But also the fact that we went to penalties as a better team gave us energy.”
Genkies, we are back in Europe!
45+7’ 1-0 Ndiaye (pen)
Vandevoordt, Kayembe, McKenzie, Cuesta, Muñoz, Hrošovský, Galarza, El Khannouss, Fadera (Bonsu Baah 50’), Sor, Oyen