Antwerp wins Belgian Cup as soccer resumes in Belgium

3 days ago

BRUSSELS (AP) — Winger Lior Refaelov scored the winning goal against his former club as Royal Antwerp beat Club Brugge 1-0 in the Belgian Cup final on Saturday in the country's first competitive game since March.

The match at the King Baudouin stadium was played without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Antwerp put on an excellent defensive display to secure its third Belgian Cup and deny Club Brugge a domestic double. Brugge was awarded a 16th Belgian title following the soccer league's decision to stop the season.

The final was initially set for March but was postponed because of the pandemic. The rescheduled game was under threat this week because of a new surge of infections in the Antwerp province. Soccer authorities confirmed Thursday that the final would go ahead.

Brugge monopolized possession but struggled to find gaps in Antwerp’s defense. The Belgian champions started as favorites as Antwerp played without several experienced players who left the club after their contracts expired.

On the backfoot from the start, Antwerp was dangerous on the counter-attack as striker Dieumerci Mbokani and Simen Juklerod tested Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet twice within the first 15 minutes.

It was another counter-attack in the 25th minute that broke the deadlock after Brugge gave away possession near midfield. Down the left side, Lamkel Ze found Juklerod, who raced into the box and crossed for Refaelov to send the ball into the net.

Refaelov played seven seasons with Brugge before joining Antwerp two years ago.

Brugge created its first chance in the 65th minute, only for Antwerp goalkeeper Davor Matijaš to deny Youssouph Badji’s header with a spectacular diving save. Antwerp’s players looked tired toward the end as Brugge pushed harder but could not equalize.

Belgium, a country with 11.5 million inhabitants, has been hard hit by the virus with nearly 69,000 confirmed cases, including 9,841 deaths.

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