from bags of nerves to Cruise Control. our boys put in a 90 minutes of near perfection to destroy KRC Genk 6-2 on a Champions League night we are not going to forget for a very long time - and not just because it was our first in the competition!
It was finally time! The Champions League shirts were on, the fanfare was over and the game in Europe's top club competition started. And it started in spectacular fashion! Takumi Minamino received a pass from Antoine Bernede on the edge of the penalty area, and turned it with a single touch into the box, where Erling Haaland was waiting to smash the ball down into the bottom left corner of the net (2'). What a dream start! The entire Arena was in raptures with a thrilling, almost hectic encounter in front of them. The Belgian visitors threatened for the first time after nine minutes as Bryan Heynen took aim but hit the ball over.
As it went on, Genk tried to inject some calm into the play. Sander Berge dropped back from holding midfield to in between the central defenders and helped keep the ball circulating among the visiting team. Our Red Bulls punished the lack of precision in their play clinically. Ulmer put the ball into the danger area and our main man Erling Haaland tested Genk goalkeeper Gaetan Coucke again.
Genk found no way through our increasingly compact team. The next moment to note came from a corner for our Red Bulls. Andre Ramalho sent a powerful header towards the Belgian goal after 30 minutes but it fell straight into the arms of Gaetan Coucke.
Takumi Minamino then sent a long clearance out of his own half that Hee Chan Hwang chased down. Sebastian Dewaest thought he had the ball under control, but Hwang seized it off him and played Earl in on goal. He remained as cool as a Norwegian fjord to slot the ball in for 2-0 (34').
Just two minutes later, the assist provider struck himself. An acrobatic pass from Zlatko Junuzovic sent our Korean in behind the defence and he stroked past the goalie for 3-0. It all seemed so easy, and it was all so wonderful (36').
The joy didn't last for too long though as we were unable to clear a Genk free-kick from outside the box and Lucumi pounced on a loose ball, turning it into the net on the fall. Stankovic was left helpless (40').
That didn't end our attacking spectacular, however. Far from it. Max Wöber charged with the ball halfway up the pitch. After the visitors tried to win possession back it fell to Takumi Minamino, who supplied Erling Haaland perfectly to knock it in for 4-1 (45').
It then got even better! Just 120 seconds later, Minamino charged down the left and whipped the ball into the far post, where Dominik Szoboszlai was waiting to fire it in. 5-1 was the incredible half-time lead for our boys!
The second half started with more excitement. Hee Chan Hwang charged through the entire Belgian side from kick-off, only to be denied by Coucke. The first goal of the period fell at the other end. Half-time substitute Theo Bongonda's first input of the evening was to supply Tanzanian centre-forward Mbwana Samatta, who left Cican Stankovic with no chance from a diving header.
The game became a bit tetchy and disjointed, with referee Felix Zwayer putting five names into his notebook in the opening 15 minutes of the second period.
Our experienced pair of Junuzovic and Ulmer prospered at this point. A one-two between the stalwarts put Andi Ulmer into the penalty area where he tucked the ball into the bottom right and got the party started again (66').
The intense tempo of the opening 60 minutes had clearly left its mark, and neither team was able to keep that up for much longer, with both dropping back. The frustration of the Flemish visitors grew. Mbwana Samatta was shown a red card for lunging into a challenge, only for the referee to change it to a yellow after a VAR check.
We held onto our lead confidently as the spectators were moved off their seats. What a Champions League evening! An incredible start that we feel we deserve after our long wait to make it into the competition.
We knew we were going into the match full of confidence. We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn't pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.
It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.
Okugawa for Szoboszlai (62'), Daka for Haaland (72'), Farkas for Kristensen (83')
Kristensen (47'), Bernede (50'), Szoboszlai (62')
Not available for action