William II is preparing for the first European football match in fifteen years. The people of Tilburg will meet at 18:30 in the second preliminary round of the Europa League FC Progrès Niederkorn. A team full of semi-professionals from Luxembourg, that must be doable, right?
On paper perhaps, but ‘watch out for underestimation’ is the motto in Tilburg this week. And goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter knows that: he was under the bar at FC Utrecht seven years ago when that team was eliminated in the preliminary round of the Europa League by the Luxembourg FC Differdange 03.
“It was not a very good result”, says the current Willem II-goalie with the necessary understatement. “But such things happen. Whether it’s a club from Luxembourg or Gibraltar, there are so many countries where we don’t really know the clubs. And then they soon get a bit laughable about it.”
Eight times in European history, a Dutch club met a team from Luxembourg. Seven times the Dutch delegation went on. The victory of Ajax on Red Boys Differdange in 1984 (14-0 in De Meer after a 0-0 in the away game) can be remembered by many people. The last victory over a Luxembourg club was 27 years ago, when Feyenoord won 5-2 against Spora Luxembourg.
But since the failure of Utrecht in 2013 (1-2 out, 3-3 at home), Ruiter does not want to laugh too much about football clubs from, for example, Luxembourg. “It’s not all that easy. You know they‘re semi-professionals, but you also know that those guys will be extra keen on it. We really need to get to work
Yet there are a lot of clichés about FC Progrès Niederkorn. Ten of the selection players have a court next to football and the captain – now transferred – mowed the field last season in the Stade Jos Haupert, which has a capacity of 2,800 spectators.
Progrès Niederkorn therefore does not know any well-known names. The only player with a big football name, striker Gullit Ramos, made a transfer to FC Marisca Mersch last summer, which is playing at the second level in Luxembourg.
Koster surprised about Progrès
These are stories that also seep through in Tilburg, but according to Willem II trainer Adrie Koster this does not detract from the quality of the team. He said he watched the match of Progrès with amazement in the first preliminary round of the Europa League, with a 3-0 victory over Montenegrin Zeta.
“They won that match with very good football. They really make a very good impression”, said Koster. “A lot of speed, a lot of movement in the team and good in the changeover. They have surprised me in a positive way and are certainly not to be underestimated”
To name but a few facts as a vaccine against underestimation: Progrès only lost two of his last fifteen matches in all competitions. Of the last six European home matches, only one was lost. Two seasons ago, Progrès eliminated Rangers FC in the preliminary round. The Scots are a potential opponent in the next round.
“They may be semiprofessionals, but they will go for it,” Koster says. “It is also an ideal moment for them to show themselves on this stage
“It’s alive and kicking
However, the same applies, of course, to William II, who played his last European match in 2005. Then, in the first round of the UEFA Cup tournament, the people of Tilburg were eliminated by AS Monaco.
“It’s very much alive in Tilburg and at the club,” says goalkeeper Ruiter. “It’s something special, especially for Willem II. We would like to give the European tournament a sequel, so that we can also play home matches”
The players don‘t need to be motivated, not even in this strange coronation time. “Most players have no European experience and therefore need little inspiration,” said Koster. “That is what they do, because this is unique, of course
The selection was looking forward to the draw a fortnight ago, but it was rather disappointing. “We were all ready and then two numbers roll out and it’s all taken care of in the computer“, says Koster. “It had happened before we knew about it Rider adds: “We had to laugh about it.”
The hope in Tilburg is that there will still be laughter after the duel with the Luxembourgers tonight. If only because Ruiter might come from his Differdange complex. “If all goes well, we won’t talk about that any more”, the goalkeeper laughs. “But if things go wrong, we may still be talking about Progrès in five years’ time
On the eve of the season we made this report about Willem II. For the first time in fifteen years the Tilburg club is playing European football again.