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The perfect start

Waregem 1-5 Nice

September 14, 2017

The perfect start

Well helped by an almost perfect first-half, the Gym got their Europa League campaign underway in the best of manners. Alert, inspired, realistic, the Aiglons crushed Zulte-Waregem, apart from a period of around fifteen minutes (5-1). 

Francky Dury had said that he “wanted to impose their style” before the game. His side’s start, who tried to put the Aiglons under pressure starting high up the pitch, would prove that the coach’s words were backed up by real actions. Like against Monaco last weekend, Lucien Favre’s side showed its noble intentions suited them perfectly. Surgical, predators, they set the game alight much to the delight of their fans and to snuff out the pipe dreams of the most recent Coupe de Belgique winners. The Belgians left acres of space in behind them, and Nice made the most of it and punished them. Well helped, in doing so, by a well-oiled 4-4-2, seriousness in the defensive phases, strength up-top and an excellent double save from Cardinale to deny Olayinka in the 9th minute.

After a quarter of an hour, following on from a magnificent tackle from Le Marchand, Seri picked up the ball in the middle and played it to Plea. With Super Mario at the tip, Alassane took on more of a 9 and a half role during the first-half, at ease with his back to the game, and sleek in his movement. He moved with accuracy and let rip from 20 metres. Slightly deflected by Heylen, the ball ended up in the back of Leali’s net (1-0, 16’).

After this opener, the Belgians came back fighting even harder. But after the opener, they were punished once more. After the Belgian’s move broke down, the Red and Blacks troubled their opponent moving up the pitch to break them down. The move? Exchanges between Dante and Papy on the edge of their own box. Then a long ball from the captain, knocked on by St-Maximin, it was then protected and then played back by Balotelli, offloaded by St-Maximin to Lees-Melou, who left his right flank with flair. Committed, the number 8 resisted the Belgian charge and then found Plea who doubled the lead finishing at the near post (2-0, 20’).

Dante scored his first goal for the Gym 8 minutes later, burying with his right after a corner from Seri wasn’t cleared (3-0, 28’).

Calm, the men from Côte excelled in their direct game thanks to, amongst others, their two wingers. A “real one” on the right (St-Maximin), who devours his lines and space; then a “fake one” on the left (Lees-Melou), who voluntarily comes off his wing to unbalance things in the heart of the game. All the signs looked good after 45 minutes. Including the little details, like the ball lost by an excellent Papy Mendy in his own box which could not be converted by De Pauw.

A difficult 15 minutes, then domination

The start of the second-half surprised the side who finished 3rd in L1 last season, because the Belgians reduced the gap… 30 seconds after returning to the pitch. From a quick attack, Leya-Iseka only had to tap the ball in to give the Reds a glimmer of hope. Which had one simple consequence: instead of finishing their work calmly, the Aiglons were put under pressure for a quarter of an hour. The Belgians believed in their chance. From a remake of the move that lead to the third goal against Monaco, Souquet set-up Balotelli, who saw his side-footed effort pushed away magnificently by Leali. On the counter, Kaya was brought down by St-Maximin on the edge of the box, then failed to convert the resulting free-kick as it just went wide of the target (54’). In the middle of all this, De Pauw shot over Cardi’s bar after a perfect cross was sent in by the very same Kaya (58’). Cardi who in the meantime pushed away a strong header from Olayinka (52’).

On the hour-mark, the Belgian storm faded. The noise dropped in the stadium (apart from the Nice fans), the Aiglons put their foot on the ball. And as if by magic, they made it a 3 goal lead once again. Super Mario turned superbly and played in St-Maximin. After a 50 metre sprint, “the Bomb” left everybody in his wake and scored his first goal in his new colours. The one that secured the victory (4-1 69').

Mario, who put in an excellent performance, applied throughout the game, found space in the Belgian box with fifteen minutes to go (5-1, 73').

This move, was started by Souquet on the right wing and the full-back was filled with a sort of Brazilian inspiration on the edge of the opposition’s box. 

At the end of a quality performance, Nice secured its second victory in its history outside of France (after Salzburg last season). 

With style and a sparkle. Keeping one eye on its goal difference, which should never be forgotten.


Waregem, Rainbow Stadium
Zulte-Waregem 1-5 OGC Nice (0-3 at half-time)

1st match of the Europa League - 14/09/2017

9072 spectators approx.

Referee: Ali Palabiyik

Goals: Leya-Iseka (46') for Zulte-Waregem ; Plea (16', 20'), Dante (28'), St-Maximin (69'), Balotelli (73') for Nice

Bookings: Balotelli (38'), St-Maximin (54') for Nice

Zulte-Waregem : Leali - De Fauw, Derijck, Hamalainen, Heylen - De Sart, Kaya (Coopman 75'), Doumbia - De Pauw (Kastanos 75'), Leye-Iseka (Saponjic 83'), Olayinka.

OGC Nice : Cardinale - Souquet, Dante (cap), Le Marchand, Jallet - St-Maximin, Mendy (Srarfi 83'), Seri (Tameze 76'), Lees-Melou - Plea (Ganago 76'), Balotelli.