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The last insane, crazy minutes of the Belgian Pro League

A goal by Toby Alderweireld gave Royal Antwerp a title that had been missing for 88 years

The last insane, crazy minutes of the Belgian Pro League A goal by Toby Alderweireld gave Royal Antwerp a title that had been missing for 88 years

If you thought the Bundesliga final was the height of chaos when Borussia Dortmund had to bow to Bayern Munich's law just minutes before winning the title through Musiala's goal, wait until you see what happened in the Jupiler League on Sunday. The Belgian Pro League was indeed decided in the last minute of the final day, when three teams close to the title took turns at the top, like a Formula 1 Grand Prix, with an unprecedented final and a special protagonist. After Royal Antwerp had finished the regular season with a one-point lead over Union Saint-Gilloise, the last matchday of the six-game play-off round saw a pairing between Royal Antwerp and the team from Brussels, which was only one point ahead of Genk, the team against which it would go for its first title in 88 years with ninety minutes to go.

Indeed, Royal Antwerp made a return to the Jupiler League in 2021 after a 48-year absence, establishing themselves in just two seasons as one of Belgium's best sides to rival three-time champions Club Bruges and Union Saint-Gilloise, a team that had completed a similar journey a few seasons earlier. Before kick-off, Mark van Bommel's squad had 44.7% chances of winning the trophy, USG 38.1% and Genk just 17.2%. Things did not go so well for Royal, however, as they fell behind before half-time in their home game against Genk, while Union Saint-Gilloise took the lead early in the second half against Club Brugge, who did not leave much to be desired on this final day. So after Royal Antwerp were champions until the 45th minute and Genk until the 46th minute, from then on it was Union Saint-Gilloise who seemed to have the Belgian championship in their hands. Instead, this was just the beginning of a pyrotechnic finale that would test the crowns of the fans of all three teams.

In the 89th minute, Japanese player Shion Homma of Club Brugge scored the equaliser against USG to put Genk on top of the championship with just seconds to go. On the Genk pitch, Royal Antwerp initially drew level but were then overtaken again by the hosts, who were just a minute away from winning the title. In the 94th minute, however, Toby Alderweireld, the historic Tottenham and Belgium national team defender, returned to his hometown and to the team he had supported as a child, having also found accommodation in Arabia with Al-Duhail SC, received a ball from a rebound on the edge of the opposition penalty area and struck a powerful cross with his right foot from right to left, top to bottom. It was the decisive goal that catapulted Royal Antwerp to the top of the table, also because in the meantime Club Brugge scored twice more in the second half through Noa Lang and Cisse Sandra to win 3-1.

When Alderweireld arrived last summer, he promised to do everything he could to get his favourite club back on the winning track, but even he did not expect it to happen so quickly. "I am at a loss for words at the moment," a visibly moved Alderweireld told Belgian television after the game ended. "Everyone betrayed us, we fought so hard for this result. Everyone was against us, but we did it today". Royal Antwerp is not a Cinderella club, however, but one that has been able to renew and invest itself in recent years, signing key figures such as coach Mark van Bommel, manager Marc Overmars and several experienced players like Radja Nainggolan and Toby Alderweireld, both of whom hail from northern Italy. And while one returned to Italy mid-season, the other turned his personal and royal Antwerp story around with a goal.