European Soccer League Title Races Reach Climax, Belgium Eyes Thrilling Final-Day Showdown

The Belgian league is set for a nail-biting title race with three teams battling for the trophy. The final game on May 26 will see a helicopter deliver the trophy to the winner. Other intense title races are taking place in England, Scotland, Turkey, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. Bayer Leverkusen is having an exceptional season, remaining unbeaten in 47 games. Despite their success, they trail teams from Serie A, Eredivisie, and Süper Lig in terms of average points per game.

PTI | Geneva | Updated: 03-05-2024 18:38 IST | Created: 03-05-2024 18:38 IST
European Soccer League Title Races Reach Climax, Belgium Eyes Thrilling Final-Day Showdown
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The helicopter is on standby again. Its task? To deliver the Belgian league trophy to the winner of another three-team title race that can only hope to match the epic climax of last season.

European soccer has intense title chases for fans to savour this month: The Arsenal-Manchester City duel in England will get the most attention while, away from the "big five" leagues, traditional city rivalries are playing out in Scotland, Turkey and Portugal.

Still, the best drama might be found in Belgium for a second straight year when the last round of games is played on May 26.

It was an instant classic last June 4 when three teams led the in-play league standings during the final six minutes of the season.

Toby Alderweireld's 20-meter (yard) shot deep in stoppage time won a first league title in 66 years for Royal Antwerp with a 2-2 draw at Genk that took the trophy from the home team.

Genk had a hand on it for just a few minutes after Union Saint-Gilloise's one-goal lead at home to Club Brugge entering the 89th collapsed into a 3-1 loss.

Hovering above Union's stadium near Brussels, with a police escort waiting on the ground, had been a helicopter carrying league CEO Lorin Parys, the championship trophy, and a 16-year-old boy helping present it as a Make-A-Wish Foundation project.

"The Union chairman, Alex Muzio, said the whole stadium saw the helicopter turn away," Parys told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

The flight path changed toward Genk, then Antwerp to land next to the stadium where the triumphant players travelled from their game to join fans who had watched a big-screen broadcast there. They poured onto the field to celebrate Alderweireld's strike — a "mythic goal," Parys said.

"You felt like the whole country was enraptured in the one story," Parys said. "We have the unscripted drama and that is the role of the league." Union is again chasing a first-ever title — now against a revived Anderlecht and Brugge, the traditional powers who reached a series of European finals in the 1970s and 80s.

Union topped the regular season standings but started the championship playoff group with four straight losses. The top six teams keep half their regular season points tally for the decisive round-robin group.

"It makes everything more exciting and different outcomes possible," Parys said of the clubs' decision to halve points tallies which is unusual in Europe.

Anderlecht and Brugge are tied on points with four rounds left and Union trails by one before hosting Anderlecht on Sunday.

The title winner's reward is direct entry to the revamped 36-team Champions League in September. The runner-up enters qualifying rounds in August.

On May 26, the title rivals play in different cities — Anderlecht at Antwerp, Brugge hosts city rival Cercle and Union hosts Genk.

The helicopter will be ready.

CITY RIVALRIES Celtic-Rangers and Galatasaray-Fenerbahce are among soccer's most emotional and hostile rivalries.

In Glasgow, one more derby game on May 11 — at Celtic Park — could be decisive as the defending champion holds a three-point lead over Rangers with four rounds left.

In Istanbul, a Galatasaray team fired by Mauro Icardi's 21 league goals leads by four points with four rounds left and hosts second-place Fenerbahce on May 19. It's their tightest head-to-head title race since 2015.

Sporting Lisbon is back on top under coach Rúben Amorim and looking to repeat their surprise title won in 2021. Sporting leads crosstown rival Benfica by five points with three rounds left.

In Prague, Sparta starts the Czech league championship playoff group this weekend with a four-point lead from Slavia. Sparta hosts the derby game on May 11.

The champions of Scotland and Portugal go direct into the Champions League, but in Turkey and the Czech Republic champions go into the qualifying rounds.

BEST SEASON? Bayer Leverkusen is the team of the season in Europe. An astonishing, out-of-nowhere unbeaten run is now at 47 games with up to six left in the Bundesliga, German Cup final and Europa League.

Still, Leverkusen's league statistics — 81 points from 31 games, at an average of 2.61 — is the same as Sporting Lisbon and trails three teams in leading European leagues.

Serie A champion Inter Milan is averaging 2.62 points and PSV Eindhoven is on 2.71 having started the Dutch season with 17 straight wins until drawing a game in January.

Galatasaray's 93 points from 34 games so far is a 2.74 average and a rare 100-point tally is in sight.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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