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There have been a total of 235 meetings between the two teams
  1. Champions League
  2. Champions League

Champions League: Brugge the surprise package

Club Brugge made history on Wednesday night when, at the 10th time of asking, they secured qualification to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

Pegged as whipping boys in Group B when the draw was made, the Belgian champions have made a mockery of those predictions, winning three of their four games to claim a place in the last-16 with two games to spare.

A battling goalless draw with Atletico Madrid proved the final piece in the puzzle of their unlikely qualification and the question now is how long the Farmers' unlikely European run will last?

Dominant domestically but found wanting in Europe

Having started as outsiders for top spot, Club Brugge are now 1/7 to finish the job and win Group B having established a four-point lead over second-placed Porto.

It’s a situation few would have foreseen at the start of the tournament with Club Brugge having won just one group stage match last season en route to crashing out at the first hurdle for the ninth time.

Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig scored a combined 19 goals against Club Brugge in the group stages a year ago, a familiar trend for a team that has never got near to matching their run to the 1978 European Cup final.

They lost to Liverpool on that occasion, having previously been bested by the Reds in their only other continental final appearance - the 1976 Uefa Cup.

While they’ve continued to pick up domestic titles since those heady days of the 1970s - Club Brugge have won five of the last seven Belgian First Division titles to take their overall tally to 18 - the going in Europe has been tough.

Hoefkens an unlikely hero

The man largely responsible for changing their Champions League fortunes is Carl Hoefkens, who has proven to be a great success in his first heading coaching role.

The former Stoke and West Brom defender worked his way up through the coaching ranks at the Jan Breydel Stadium, eventually getting the top job this summer when Alfred Schreuder left to take charge at Ajax.

Hoefkens hasn’t made sweeping changes from Schreuder’s reign, sticking largely to the 3-5-2 system he employed. However, he has proven to be adaptable, switching to a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 at times.

He’s also taken a more attacking approach to games, resulting in Club Brugge bagging seven in Europe and 22 domestically.

While Hoefkens may not have got the balance quite right in the Belgian First Division, where Club Brugge are third, eight points behind leaders Antwerp and have lost three times already, his system has worked well in the Champions League.

The much-maligned Simon Mignolet is yet to concede a goal in four European outings this season, collecting the Player of the Match award for his latest shutout against Atletico Madrid.

Young trio put themselves in shop window

However, it’s three youngsters in Ferran Jutgla, Andreas Skov Olsen and Abakar Sylla who are likely to gleam the most from Club Brugge’s European efforts. All three are 23 or younger and likely to go on to bigger and better things in the future.

Jutgla, who joined from Barcelona in the summer, has proven to be the dangerman for Brugge, recording eight goals and five assists in all competitions this season. The Spaniard is already being spoken about as a potential Arsenal target and appears to be the latest gem unearthed by the Belgians.

Olsen made the switch to Brugge in January and the Denmark international has thrived as a wing-back, while 19-year-old Ivorian Syalla has shown maturity beyond his years as a centre-back.

When will the Brugge bubble burst?

Hoefkens has a promising squad at his disposal with the players proving good enough to take full advantage of some underwhelming efforts by their group-stage opponents.

The 4-0 away win at Porto and 2-0 triumph over Atletico Madrid on home soil are results any of Europe’s top teams would be happy to hang their hat on and no one should be underestimating Club Brugge in the last-16.

However, a tough tie awaits in the first knockout round with Club Brugge potentially in line to play either Liverpool, Inter Milan, Marseille, Salzburg, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund or Benfica should they be confirmed as group winners and those sides remain in their current runner-up spots in their pools.

With the exception of Salzburg, Club Brugge would face an uphill battle against any of those other six sides over two legs, but for now can just enjoy being only the second Belgian side to qualify for the last 16 with the treat of competitive Champions League football after Christmas still to come.

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