Willem II may be preparing for a home game in the third preliminary round of the Europa League against Rangers FC or the Scots will have to be surprised by football dwarf Lincoln Red Imps from Gibraltar. The people of Tilburg themselves have professionally made short work of another football dwarf: FC Progrès Niederkorn. It became 0-5 for Willem II in Differdange, where the Luxembourg opponent had fled to, after a 0-3 lead at halftime. The big win in Luxembourg is only the third European victory ever for William II and the biggest.
The big eye-catcher was Greek striker Vangelis Pavlidis, who scored two goals and already saw a goal rejected at the 0-0 mark for being offside. The third goal from Tilburg was scored by Görkem Saglam. Immediately after the break Ché Nunnely made it 0-4, while Mike Tresor Ndayishimiye also took his goal.
Although Willem II spoke with a lot of respect about FC Progrès Niederkorn beforehand, the difference in quality with the Luxembourgers was very big. The home team had absolutely no grip at all on players like Ché Nunnely and Mike Tresor Ndayishimiye, who also conjured with his feet on the abominable pitch in Luxembourg. The Luxembourgers are a fairly regular customer in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, but had not lost that much in a long time. In the thirty European matches played by FC Progrès Niederkorn, only Vejle BK (9-0) and Real Madrid (7-0) managed to win more than that, but that was at the end of the seventies.
Compared to last Saturday‘s lost away game of SC Heerenveen, the Tilburg players Jordens Peters, who had been suspended in Friesland, and Freek Heerkens, who returned from an injury, had regained their basic spot. Heerkens left the team before half-time. On the heavy field in Luxembourg, no risk was taken with the just recovered right back and Victor van den Bogert took his place.
It is only a modest start, but the first European victory of Willem II since the 3-0 victory at Dinamo Tbilisi on 29 September 1998, is also welcome in view of the Dutch position on the UEFA coefficient ranking. As a rule, the fifth European representative from the Eredivisie is not a success number. In recent years Ajax and to a lesser extent PSV, AZ and Feyenoord have made the points. FC Utrecht, for example, squeezed the average last season after their elimination in the second preliminary round against Bosnian FC Zrinjski Mostar. And the same was true four years ago for Heracles Almelo, who was eliminated by the Portuguese Arouca.
For Willem II, the away match in Luxembourg meant a return to the European podium after fifteen years. The people of Tilburg had played European for the last time in the 2005/2006 season (two defeats against AS Monaco). It is the fifth European campaign of the Tilburgers, who even finished in the group stage of the Champions League in the 1999/2000 season.
Although the match in Luxembourg, like all other matches in the preliminary rounds of the Champions League and Europa League, was played without an audience because of the corona pandemic, the Tilburg fans did not let the return to the European stage go unnoticed. A few hundred supporters had travelled from Tilburg to Differdange and both at the arrival of the players bus and at the turnout for the match, the Willem II players were given a hero’s welcome with fireworks, torches and singing. At the match, this was done from the bushes behind a railway track, which is next to the stadium. Part of the fans watched the match from the bushes, occasionally hindered by a train passing at a walking pace, which was then welcomed by boos. The Brabanders had provided music themselves, with ‘Kedeng, kedeng’ by the Tilburg singer Guus Meeuwis of course not to be missed on the railway embankment.
The rest of the Willem II supporters watched the game on TV from the terraces in the town, so that after half a minute each goal was cheered on from the city centre.