Thursday, May 10, 2007

Allez le rouge et blanche

Yesterday night I stood on the Kop, holding my red scarf, and sung "You'll Never Walk Alone", as the home players ran around the field thanking the supporters for their intensive cheering during the electrifying Cup semi-final that had just ended.

No, I wasn't at Anfield. No, I'm not fantasizing on it either.

I was invited by my friend Jan to watch his team, Standard de Liege, play Anderlecht on the second leg of the demi-finale of Coupe de Belgique. Standard had won the first leg away 0-1, a surprise result given that Anderlecht is the current league leader and constant Champions League participant.

Besides eating French fries with mayonnaise in the rain while drinking a couple of pints of Jupiler, I watched a very entertaining match with a fantastic atmosphere. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera, so I will illustrate with some pics from Standard's website.

First half

Standard played on a 4-4-2 with a midfield a la anglaise - relying heavily on the industry of their central midfielders, Belgian teenagers Defour and Fellaini. Their strategy consisted of exchaging side passes in the opposition midfield till it reached one the team's two most skilled players - right midfield Sergio Conceição and centre forward Jovanovic.

Backed not only by the relentless chant of the self-called Kop, but also by noteworthy performances of their almost flawless centre-backs (Brazilian Dante, former Juventude player, and Senegalese Sarr), Standard pushed forward, and should have scored on the first half. But actually only Jovanovic showed some willingness to shoot, the others being a bit too reluctant when near the area.

Anderlecht was keeping it tight with a line of three in the midfield, right in front of the back line. And though the three up front were always ready to launch counter-attacks, their most dangerous player was Argentine right-midfield Biglia - who a couple of times cauught Standard's left back lost in marking and appeared to shoot.

Second half

Anderlecht endured till the break but were surprised by a goal at minute 46. I was surprised as well - I heard the crowd yell but I was actually still at the toilet at the time. When I sat, I saw an Anderlecht onslaught - they had nothing to lose anyway - which ended up in a goal by minute 60.

Standard's coach then reacted by taking off Jovanovic's partner in attack (Lukunku, an ineffective tall centre-forward) and replacing him with Portuguese elder Sá Pinto. Guess what, it worked. He helped regain midfield in a time when Anderlecht was regaining confidence. And, most importantly, he earned a penalty "from heaven" when stealing the ball from a centre-back and stopped by the keeper.

The subsequent goal was cold water to Anderlecht but sparked the Kop. From then on, Standard fans were more worried about coordinating the Mexican wave and the Ole chant.

The fans

Liege is in a French-speaking part of Belgium, and hence the chants were another foray into my learning of français. Not that they were too elaborate:

"Hey! Hey! Tous ensemble, tous ensemble!"

"Allez les rouges... allez les rouges... allez le rouge et blanche..."

And also some other chants that I couldn't really understand. Best one was a sequence of sentences uttered by one side of the stadium, and repeated 3 seconds later by the other, that ended up with a massive "Ole ole" chant.

The stadium resembled La Bombonera - tall, steep stands, with ribbons, flags and banners flying, as you can see in the pic above. I was on a seat in the third floor, but the side of the field, not in the Kop. By the way that is one thing I was likened to Standard - they look up to Liverpool, with the stands, the nonstop cheering, and the playing of You`ll Never Walk Alone in the End. Unbelievable.

Saturday, last home match of the season against Club Brugge (who Standard will play in the Cup final, in 10 days) - I'm there!!! Tous ensemble, tous ensemble!!!

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