Club Brugge wins 19th Belgian league title after coming out on top of three-way fight

BRUSSELS (AP) — Club Brugge won its 19th Belgian league title on a dramatic final day of the season with a 0-0 draw against local rival Cercle Brugge that capped a remarkable turnaround in fortunes during the playoffs phase.

Club Brugge came close to letting the title slip away Sunday when it conceded a goal with about 10 minutes left, only for the referee to cancel it for an offside position after a VAR check.

For the second straight year, three teams still had a shot at the title before kickoff: Brugge, Union Saint-Gilloise and Anderlecht.

And for the second year in a row, the Belgian League helicopter carrying league CEO Lorin Parys was put on standby, ready to land at the final whistle to deliver the trophy and the medals to the new champions of Belgium.

Brugge won its fourth league title in five years by just one point ahead of Union. Anderlecht ended third, four points off the pace.

Brugge hosted local rival Cercle Brugge knowing that a draw would be enough, having built a three-point lead from an impressive playoff campaign during which it remained unbeaten under coach Nicky Hayen.

He was named as a replacement for Ronny Deila, who was fired after less than a season in charge in the wake of Club Brugge’s 2-1 defeat against STVV at the end of the regular season in March. At that point, the team lagged 19 points behind Union.

Hayen, who was in charge of the club’s reserve team, transformed the ailing squad into a winning machine while Union and Anderlecht dropped points. The club from the “Venice of the North” then made a decisive step toward the title when it opened a three-point lead at the top with a 1-0 win at Anderlecht last week.

Anderlecht holds the record for the most Belgian league titles, with 34.

The title winner’s reward is direct entry to the revamped 36-team Champions League in September. Union will enter qualifying rounds in August. Brugge can expect a minimum of 25 million euros ($27 million) from the lucrative group stage.

Union beat Racing Genk 2-0 and Anderlecht lost 3-1 at last season’s champion Antwerp.

Cercle thought it was on the verge of a major upset when Leonardo Lopes latched onto Hugo Siquet’s free kick. Club Brugge defender Denis Odoi tried to clear the ball on his line, and it was not clear whether it had crossed. Referee Jonathan Lardot finally ruled out the goal for an offside position in the buildup

The Belgian title is decided via a championship playoff, contested by the top six sides, which see their total of points amassed throughout the regular phase halved.

Union Saint-Gilloise, which won the Belgian Cup, dominated the regular season only to crumble in the playoffs, missing yet another chance to win its first Belgian title since 1935. It got the first of its 11 titles in 1904 and played 60 straight matches undefeated from 1933-35, a record that still stands in the soccer-mad country.


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