KAS Eupen will be in action again today as they travel to Jan Breydel Stadium to face 14-time Belgian champions Club Brugge on matchday two of the 2017-18 Pro League.
A tough game that comes after a disastrous 5-0 defeat last week against Zulte Waregem on the opening day of the season.
But things look set to improve for “Les Pandas” – a nickname they earned for their black and white outfit.
The defeat against Zulte might have ruined a historic evening that marked the team’s first ever back-to-back appearances in the Belgian top flight, but after all, it was always going to be a difficult match against a more experienced side that finished in the top six last season and won the Belgian cup title, especially with Eupen missing two key defenders through injury, while giving five new summer signings starting berths.
Back in the summer of 2016, Les Pandas were an even tougher situation.
All the odds were against the newly promoted team from the small city near the German border. They had one of the youngest sides in the Pro League, with a team mostly made up of Aspire Academy graduates aged between 18 and 22, and despite the club’s 70-year-history, the 2016-17 season was only their second in the top tier. In addition, they had the lowest budget compared to the other 15 clubs competing in the league.
Survival was an extremely difficult mission for head coach Jordi Condom and his squad, but the man – who learned his trade as a player and a coach at FC Barcelona’s famous youth academy, La Masia – somehow found a way to get over all these obstacles, and despite many defensive problems, Eupen managed to play some entertaining attacking football. They achieved memorable results against much more accomplished sides, while securing their place in Pro League and also making history by reaching the semifinals of the Belgian Cup, their best ever result in the competition.
This season Jordi Condom will have a more experienced side with 14 reinforcements, but he will need to do more than finding solutions to the team’s defensive woes.
The summer of 2017 saw the departure of Henry Onyekuru and Mamadou Sylla, two strikers who scored a total of 34 league goals last season, more than half of the team’s total tally.
So what can the fans at Kehrweg stadium should expect from the team this season?
Eupen will once again have one of the youngest sides in the league (18 players in the squad are aged between 18 and 22), but still they look capable of surviving for another season in the top flight with their current mix of promising talents and experienced players.
Hendrik Van Crombrugge will need to stay in top form. The heroic performances of the 24-year-old keeper kept the team in Pro League last season. It even even attracted the attention of Belgium national team coach Roberto Martinez,and it could be a matter of time before he makes his international debut.
Moussa Wague looks capable of improving, and it might solve the problems on the right side of the defense, while new signing Qatar international Abdul Karim Hassan is an excellent addition on the left side.
Playing with three centre-backs proved to make the difference for Jordi Condom near the end of last season, and finding the right combination of players will be one of the keys to success this season.
In midfield, the experience of Luis Garcia will be vital, while the duo of Eric Ocansey and Jean Thierry Lazare are already showing signs of developing into world-class players.
The return of Akram Afif – Qatar’s brightest young talent – should boost the team’s attacking potential alongside the experience of the other new signings, Nicolas Verdier and Moussa Diallo. The latter was in great form during the pre-season, but moving from Belgium’s Amateur 4th division to the top flight will be a huge challenge for the 26-year-old striker.
It might be too early to suggest that Eupen will have less power up front without Onyekuru and Sylla. A more balanced strategy should do the trick, and the main key to achieving better results than last season will be the ability of their 14 summer signings to settle in quickly and adjust to Jordi’s tactics.
Season 2016-17 in brief
Eupen finished 13th in the Regular Season, seven point away from the relegation spot.
Here’s a look at the bottom half of the table at the end of the regular season.
In the playoff group B, they finished third.
Only the top team qualified to the Europa League play off.
The Season in Numbers
40, total matches played
60, goals scored, the 8th best attack in the league
84, goals conceded, the worst defense in the league
22, goals scored by the team’s top scorer Henry Onyekuru
8, top assists, Eric Ocansey
25, percentage of goals scored by Eupen in the final 15 minutes
4, goals scored by Eupen from direct or indirect set pieces
9, matches that saw Eupen failing to score
4-2, Biggest League win, at home vs. Sint-Truiden
0-4, Biggest League defeat, away vs. Anderlecht
1. Hendrik Van Crombrugge (Belgium)
30. Babcar Niasse (Senegal)
33. Abdul Manaf Nurudeen (Ghana) new
2. Ibrahim Diallo (Mali)
3. AbdulKarim Hassan (Qatar) new
4. Jordan Loties (France) new
5. Diawandou Diagne (Senegal)
15. Moussa Wague (Senegal)
17. Carlos Martinez (Costa Rica) new
22. Siebe Blondelle (Belgium)
23. Mickael Tirpan (Belgium) new
24. Silas Gnaka (Ivory Coast)
29. Souleymane Aw (Senegal) new
44. Marc Valiente (Spain) new
6. Assim Madibo (Qatar) new
8. Jean-Thierry Lazare Amani (Ivory Coast)
10. Luis Garcia (Spain)
14. Alessio Castro Montes (Belgium) new
18. Nils Schouterden (Belgium) new
25. Odeni George (Nigeria)
28. Eric Ocansey (Ghana)
7. Hamza Sanhaji (Qatar) new
11. Akram Afif (Qatar) new
13. Damien Mouchamps (Belgium)
21. Moussa Diallo (Belgium) new
99. Nicolas Verdier (France) new
In Blue, Aspire Academy Graduates
new: Players who joined the team this summer
The Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Jordi Condom Auli
Assistant Coach: Manuel Exposito
Physical Trainer: Roma Cunillera
Goalkeepers Coach: Javier Ruiz Bonilla
Who left the team this summer?
Fahad AlAbdulRahman (Qatar) to Al Sadd, loan return.
Henry Onyekuru (Nigeria) to Everton, later joined Anderlecht on loan.
Mamadou Sylla (Senegal) Espanyol, loan return, later joined Ghent.
Jefferen Suarez (Venezuela) to Grasshoppers (SWI)
Peter Hackenberg (Germany) out of contract.
Jose Cases (Spain) out of contract.
Christian Bruls (Belgium) failed to agree a new contract.
Anthony Bassey (Nigeria) failed to agree a new contract.
RIP Ntuthuko Radebe
At the start of last season, the team missed the services of their main right back Raoul Kenne indefinitely due to health issues, and it resulted in chaos for the defense until the arrival of Moussa Wague.
This summer, disaster struck again when Ntuthuko Radebe was killed in a car accident in his home country.
The 22-year-old South African left-back played 35 league games for “Les Pandas” between 2012 and 2016.
Vs. Cologne U21 3-0 (Diallo 70,77,85) Vs. Borussia Monchengladbach 2-2 (Garcia 57’ Diallo 70’) Vs. Roda JC 5-0 (Ocansey 2’ Verdier 52’55’ Mouchamps 84’ Diallo 85’) Vs. Metz 0-2 Vs. Lierse 2-0 (Castro Montes 5’ Schouterden 77’)
Eupen’s League Matches – Regular Season
29-07-2017 vs. Zulte Waregem (H) 06-08-2017 vs. Club Brugge (A) 12-08-2017 vs. Kortrijk (H) 19-08-2017 vs. Oostende (H) 26-08-2017 vs. Lokeren (A) 09-09-2017 vs. Waasland-Beveren (A) 16-09-2017 vs. Standard Liege (H) 23-09-2017 vs. Excel Mouscron (A) 30-09-2017 vs. Genk (H) 14-10-2017 vs. Charleroi (A) 21-10-2017 vs. Mechelen (H) 25-10-2017 vs. Ghent (A) 28-10-2017 vs. Anderlecht (H) 04-11-2017 vs. Sint Truiden (A) 18-11-2017 vs. Antwerp (H) 25-11-2017 vs. Oostende (A) 02-12-2017 vs. Club Brugge (H) 09-12-2017 vs. Genk (A) 16-12-2017 vs. Sint Truiden (H) 23-12-2017 vs. Anderlecht (A) 27-12-2017 vs. Waasland-Beveren (H) 20-01-2018 vs. Standard Liege (A) 24-01-2018 vs. Charleroi (H) 27-01-2018 vs. Kortrijk (A) 03-02-2018 vs. Ghent (H) 10-02-2018 vs. Mechelen (A) 17-02-2018 vs. Zulte Waregem (A) 24-02-2018 vs. Lokeren (H) 03-03-2018 vs. Antwerp (A) 10-03-2018 vs. Excel Mouscron (H)
The City of Eupen
- A city in the eastern province of Liège, just 15 kilometers away from the German border. It is the capital of the German-speaking community in Belgium and is the smallest city represented in the Pro League with a population of just around 19,000.
- You can reach Eupen by train from the Belgian capital Brussels, the trip takes just under two hours and costs around 22 euros for a standard one way ticket.
- Eupen is also close to the cities of Aachen (Germany) and Maastricht (Netherlands).
- Founded in 1945 as “AS Eupen”, but 50 years later the official name changed to “KAS Eupen”.
- AS stands for “Alliance Sportive”, it means the sporting alliance in French, while KAS stands for “Königliche Allgemeine Sportvereinigung” which means the Royal General Sports Association in German.
- They spent most of their history in the lower tiers of Belgian football and only made their Pro League debut in the 2010-11 season.
The Aspire Zone Foundation era – a brief history
- In the summer of 2012, KAS Eupen was acquired by Qatar’s Aspire Zone Foundation (AZF), to provide the young talents of Aspire Academies with an opportunity to further develop their career in a high-level professional league in Europe.
- Over the following few years, some bright young players made the move from Aspire Academy in Qatar and Aspire Football Dreams Academy in Senegal to Eupen, a few experienced players were added to the mix and a Spanish coaching staff took charge of the team.
- Tariq Al Naama, vice-president of Aspire Zone, was appointed as chairman of the club, heading a managerial team that includes Josep Colomer – the man who brought Lionel Messi to FC Barcelona – as Sporting Director and Christoph Henkel – who spent 24 years developing youth football at FC Koln – as General Director.
- The impact was instant and over the following few seasons the club came close to a top-flight return on several occasions, but they always fell in the final hurdle, until the 2015-16 season when they gaines promotion despite finishing second in Division 2, after the Belgian Court of Arbitration for Sports denied the league winners WS Bruxelles the license needed to compete in professional football competitions.
- The home stadium of the Pandas was built in the 1940’s. It underwent major renovation in 2010 when the team reached the top division for the first time and its current capacity is around 8360 spectators.
- The average attendance at Kehrweg Stadium in the league matches last season was around 3000 spectators with the home matches against Anderlecht and Standard Liege attracting more than 5000.
- The club has several official fan groups: the Supporterclub Pandas, the Zebras, the Schwarz-Weisse Gallier and TSV Pinguwine.
- The club’s mascot is of course a panda, its name is “Eupi”.
- This year KAS Eupen has agreed a deal with sportswear giant Nike to supply the team’s kits for the upcoming four seasons.
- Eupen’s main shirt sponsor is Aspire Academy.
- Regular season, 16 teams play against each other on home and away basis.
- The side that finishes in 16th position is directly relegated to Division B.
- The top six teams in the regular season compete for the league title through the championship playoff, again in a league format, home and away.
- The nine teams from 7th to 15th and three sides from the second division, are divided into two groups of six. The team that finishes top in each group qualify to the Europa League playoff final.