Tuesday 1 November 2022 22:15

Carl Hoefkens: “Our self-belief is gigantic"

A slightly disappointed coach Hoefkens after the draw at Leverkusen, even if he also felt pride for his group.

“The fact of the matter is that I'm very slightly disappointed, and that speaks volumes about the belief and confidence I have in this group of players", the coach kicked off. "But that stepped aside quickly once we realised just what we have done. When you get four out of six against two of the three competitors, and three out of six against that other team, and you get five clean sheets, that's just something you have to be absolutely thrilled with. As to today's game, our plan was to come and win here, with some dominant play. There were some pressure moments. That chance for Kamal (Sowah) was one of them, but the goalkeeper got to that one well. In the second half there was that other opportunity, but you know well enough that it's the details that decide these encounters. Both teams did not manage to make the most of them, ending in a draw, and in the end we can conclude that it's fair to be so very proud of what we have achieved.”
The score line in the other Group B game did not go according to plan. "I knew at half time what the score was, but I did not notify my group about it, as our intention was to win this game, no matter the score on the other pitch. I don't want my players to start thinking differently, their actions should always be executed as well as possible. I was happy with the intensity they showed, and we did have some opportunities in the second half. With fifteen minutes on the clock, we tried getting that winning goal, but with caution. It was only with ten minutes to go that we went all-in.”
The coach had some words of praise for his group after this fantastic campaign. "A 9 out of 10 for my group. Those who had predicted this before it was all kicked off, would have earned a direct ticket to the loony bin, I think. The fact that we did realise this as a group, and I do mean everyone within the club and the steps we all took. As to me personally, also for not having lost the feeling that my team should man the pitch with the idea to focus on defending. Our intentions were always to play dominant football with high pressing and Gegenpressung. And that worked out great in many games at the very highest level, and this at many moments. When you can convince your group to play lik this, and these are the results, you can only rate them 9 out of 10.”
The press also asked the coach's two cents on the rest of the CL campaign. "I won't be going into whether it would be a world of difference coming in first or second. When you take a look at the runners-up, you can see that there also some big guns among them. There's a difference, surely, and we knew that beforehand, and it's only logical. However the draw turns out, it doesn't really matter to me. I reckon we have a good basis to make it hard on any team. Five clean sheets mean we have a stable team, and that our self-belief is gigantic. So I'm looking forward to see who we end up against, and we'll give it everything we've got to bring the same quality to the table as we have done so far.”
The respect from other teams is also growing. "The way Atlético took on that second game against us, you could feel that they adjusted their tactics to us. Porto also adapted to our play, and today, you could see Leverkusen was not keen on pressing high upfield (which they had always done in earlier games). They clearly didn't want to take too many risks in their build-up, and they were very cautious. That played in our advantage too today, so you can see that teams are showing us more and more respect. That's fantastic to behold and feel, and you could also notice this in the entourage of those teams.”
As to the question whether his team was less sharp up front, the coach indicated: "It's not like they are less sharp, it's really more a matter of seizing the moment. I was happy with the performance of my strikers too today, but they were also up against huge quality, with big and strong defenders. You just know you won't be getting ten clear cut chancces, and that you will have to make the most of those tiny moments. Unfortunately we didn't do that today, but there's nothing more I could have asked of my players. I'm also happy with how Brandon (Mechele) and Dedryck (Boyata) handled themselves. The latter may have struggled against Ostend, but it is great to see how he has learned from his erratic ways, and how he even made his apologies towards the team. Those are the kind of elements that make these group dynamics so very strong. When Brandon, Dedryck and Bjorn reach their usual level like they did today, I'll be the first to accept that they can also drop the ball too. When they're going at 180 all the time, it's only logical that the can falter too. But it is our ambition to go at 200", a satisfied coach Hoefkens concluded his press talk. (TM)

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