Image: GEPA pictures
2013, 2016 and now also 2021: Rapid and KRC Genk meet in the European Football League for the third time in eight years. The Viennese have fond memories of the most recent direct duel in front of their own audience. On September 15, 2016, they started the group stage with a 3-2 win in front of 21,800 fans at the Allianz Stadium. That was not an isolated case, three of the last four opening games in the second most important European Cup competition were won by the Hütteldorfer.
Only last year Rapid had not had a victorious start with a 1: 2 against Arsenal. Previously, there had been consistently surprising victories in 2015 with a 2-1 against Villarreal and in 2018 with a 2-0 against Spartak Moscow. In the narrow success over Genk, the current regular goalie Richard Strebinger was already in the Rapid goal, and Christopher Dibon, who was recently injured in his knee, was there from the start. Srdjan Grahovac and Maximilian Hofmann saw the game from the bench.
In the second leg lost 0: 1 in Belgium on November 24, 2016, Grahovac was in action in addition to Dibon, Strebinger as well as Hofmann replacements. The standing of the latter is now completely different, he has become captain. He can still remember the duels with Genk. This is one of the reasons why the 28-year-old expects a close affair. “They have a different quality than Admira and are a really strong opponent,” said the central defender. A really strong performance is therefore required. “We have already shown in the past that we are capable of this,” emphasized Hofmann.
The present is not, however, exhilarating, with eight points from seven games, the record champions in the league can only be found in ninth place. However, the anticipation for the game is not clouded by the kickers. “Thursday evening, full house, there is nothing better for a footballer, we're looking forward to it,” said Hofmann. It is no secret where his team will have to improve in the next “intense and difficult” weeks. “We need more conviction and better solutions in the last third.”
Genk – twice 1: 2 against Shakhtar Donetsk – like Rapid, missed the Champions League. In the league, the Belgian cup winner and runner-up was able to win three of the last four games, with the winning run on Sunday being stopped with a 1-1 home draw against Union SG. The captain is the 24-year-old Belgian midfielder Bryan Heynen, who also gained experience against Rapid in 2016. The 54-year-old Dutchman John van den Brom, who was champion with Anderlecht in 2013, has been the coach since November 2020.
Genk was less often than record participant Rapid (9) in the Europa League, but is a bit ahead of the Viennese. The group phase was mastered in all four attempts, and in the years with duels with the third-placed Hütteldorfer even as group first. In 2013 Rapid fought 1-1 away, followed by a 2-2 win at the Ernst Happel Stadium.
Against Austrian clubs, the Belgian champions from 2019 are still without a win away from home. In 2019 there was a clear defeat in the Champions League against Salzburg (2: 6) – as at home (1: 4). The home of the fifth in the Jupiler Pro League is still the same, but the name is new. This year, the Luminus Arena became the Cegeka Arena – the first 5G stadium in Belgium. Cegeka is named after a local, Europe-wide IT company.