Three games in the Netherlands and Belgium including visits to Breda and Gent.
28th March NAC Breda 2 Utrecht 2 Dutch Premier 18,100 (c. 300 away)
This game was a slow burn unlike the pre-match fireworks that were not only deafening but caused enough damage to the pitch such that we had a ten minute delay before getting going.
Initially the visitors looked more composed although young Hooi on the wing for NAC produced some decent crosses.
After the break NAC pressed forward and Verbeek converted at the far post for what looked for a long time like the winner.
Then we had a breathless last few minutes as first Utrecht equalised, then NAC went ahead with a Poepon header that should have been saved, followed by another mistake that allowed van den Gun to stun the home crowd and equalise for the second time.
I’d taken the Eurostar which arrived late , a Belgian train - also late and finally a belated connection over the border to Breda (also late)
But there was time enough to walk to the Rat Verlegh where the atmosphere was vibrant, with the ‘B-side’ prominent, and in the end we had a memorable finish.
29th March Gent 0 Oostende 1 Belgian Play-off II 10,240 (200 away)
From Breda to Antwerp thence onward to Gent.Where the weather was conducive and many enjoyed wandering around the historic city centre.
The new stadium is not that convenient - either a tram and an awkward walk or a couple buses
get you there (I needed a bus and a taxi on the return trip)But it certainly has an impressive blue-themed exterior although for this first play-off match there was quite a low attendance inside.
Maybe the fans knew what to expect.
At least we didn’t get any significant delays despite the countdown/dramatic music/ceremonial kickoff and respectful silence.Gent looked lacking in confidence and they produced little fluency.
The match was decided early on by a Saini free kick and though the visitors might have had more goals through breakaways one was enough.
Gabonese goalie Ovono comfortably stopped most Gent efforts although he ventured out too far at times.
Most of the time the atmosphere was subdued and the few hundred Oostende fans experienced few concerns.
30th March Achilles ‘29 1 Telstar 0 Dutch 1st division 1,431 (c. 30 away)
Visiting Groesbeek to see Achilles feels like watching a non-league game.
You can stroll around the ground, which is on the edge of the village, as you watch the players warming up.
Though bottom of the league Achilles have a period of grace before they can be relegated (or promoted) - time will tell if they have the resources to survive.But they won this one thanks to a long ball converted by Hendriks.
Long balls, lots of offsides and lack of flow characterised the match.
To carry on an earlier theme we were late finishing due to Telstar having to change their shirts
after a few minutes. Their black & white combination clashed with the home side’s black & white stripes.
Telstar thus appeared later in Achilles’ change strip of patriotic orange.
It didn’t help much.
My route back to Antwerp involved bus/train/bus/train and train, this time all pretty much on time.To finish I enjoyed some steak and red wine near to Antwerp station.
And took the Eurostar back home the next day.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/2516617396