Bence Horváth wraps up the Luxembourg football season.
The second half of May is the most turbulent, chaotic period in the life of a football fan. Tracking live tables, scores, and permutations from leagues around the world throughout an afternoon is as exhausting as it is thoroughly fascinating. Luxembourg was no exception, with plenty to play for in the last weeks of action. We will now look at two showpiece occasions that shaped the whole season in the end, reliving the events as they happened.
Friday, 26 May
Stade de Luxembourg was ready – and fully packed, at 8,385 official spectators – to host its second cup final since it was opened in July 2021. The attention was soaring given one of the most-supported clubs in the country (in FC Differdange) faced the first team since 2004/05 to have made it to a Coupe de Luxembourg final from the lower leagues. Marisca Mersch was also looking to become the first winners from outside the BGL Ligue since Jeunesse Hautcharage’s 1970/71 victory.
As the league seasons had ended a week before this spectacle, Marisca’s team was already past an open-top bus parade held after securing promotion to the National Division for the very first time in the club’s history. Curiously enough, they decided to rest all their usual starters in the final matchday, culminating in an ugly-looking 9-1 loss against playoff-chasing Jeunesse Canach just to rain on their parade a tiny bit.
This time around, the Yellow & Blues were notably hungrier and rose to the occasion as they met the third top-flight team during their cup run, having already beaten Wiltz 71 and Mondorf in the previous rounds.
Minor individual mistakes did occur but looking at the bigger picture, it didn’t seem like the players were too intimidated by a record Coupe de Luxembourg final crowd. It was favourites Differdange that opened the scoring nevertheless, Érico Castro exploiting a lack of sufficient organisation in defence.
The Merschers did have chances and firmly stood their ground and at one point looked on track to equalise. The sucker punch came in the 42nd minute though, when midfielder Ulisses was able to double FCD’s lead somewhat against the state of play.
Despite trailing by two goals at half-time as underdogs, Marisca was far from settling for a low scoreline or letting FCD run riot. They kept dominating the game, and this time they did succeed: Joel Rodríguez pulled one back after 65 minutes played, for all his team’s wasteful finishing.
It was exceptionally crucial for Differdange to get back in the front seat by scoring their third goal of the night, keeping the motivated underdogs a safe distance from them. In the 82nd minute, Marisca struck again, this time Frédéric Thill converting a Benny Bresch cross. But even that wasn’t enough, and the late drama this time came in the form of a winner by Laurent Pomponi in stoppage time. Cue pandemonium. Differdange’s passionate ultras celebrated the club’s first piece of silverware since 2014/15 raucously.
In a season that seemed lost and abandoned after two successive managers, Pedro Resende and Stéphane Leoni, struggled to lift the club from mid-table positions, their wobbly foundations in the league didn’t quite solidify under originally an interim manager Hélder Dias either, but the 40-year old Portuguese made miracles happen in the cup: first they knocked out champions Swift Hesper, followed by 2nd-placed Progrés Niedercorn, before going one further and defeating Victoria Rosport, after the Reds’ heroic win against giants F91 Dudelange. The road to the final was as tough as it gets in Luxembourg, and there were moments when FCD’s progression was in doubt.
But eventually, it’s them who could party throughout the following night, at the training base and in the town as well, having secured European qualification. Not only that, but they will join Europa Conference League’s qualifiers one round later than Niedercorn and Dudelange do after their respective podium finishes.
Marisca’s heroic efforts fell just short this time, but promotion to the top division is more than enough consolation for a club that had never even come close to reaching this sort of achievement either in the cup or the league before. A truly historic season in Mersch all the fans will long remember.
Saturday, May 27
All that was left to be decided after a dramatic cup final was the last remaining place in 2023/24 BGL Ligue. UN Käerjéng, who experienced a tumultuous 2023, was drawn against Ehrenpromotion podium finishers SC Bettembourg.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Bettembourg’s last season in the top tier, so a return would have fit into the script of any fairytale story. Käerjéng, on the other hand, started the season with some eye-catching performances as a newly-promoted team but their early-season form soon unfolded, and they set out on a downwards slide they never really recovered from. Although their results in May proved just enough to avoid the drop, this final challenge was still ahead of them, with the stakes at the highest.
The game started fantastically from a Bettembourg point of view: a penalty only 11 minutes in was duly converted by main attacker Brian Dauphin, who increased his tally to 18 goals in 19 games in the season and could have staked a claim for the best player in the division award, had it not been for injury absences.
Käerjéng’s problems escalated after their goalkeeper Joé Frising had to be substituted only minutes after the goal. 18-year old Luxembourg youth international Noah Scheidweiler has previously stood between the sticks to deputise when required, getting one clean sheet in seven appearances preceding this game. Needless to say though, this appearance was by far the most important in Scheidweiler’s short career so far.
However, they did manage to keep it quiet at the back for the rest of the first half, which brought much-needed stability after UNK's shaky start. In first-half stoppage time, Stefan Lopes scored to cancel Bettembourg’s advantage.
The next goal didn’t come until after the hour mark, but its beauty made up for it: Cleidir Neves surprised Käerjéng’s defence after a surgical counter-attack ended in a wonderful long-range effort finding its way into the net. Not a lot to do about this one for Scheidweiler.
Bettembourg was once again on the way towards promotion, but they managed to set themselves back yet again: they gifted a cheap penalty in much the same way UNK did, and Julien Fostier didn’t hesitate, scoring confidently.
With minutes ticking away, both clubs kept one substitution unused in case of extra time playing out. It didn’t exactly work out for the promotion-chasers either, as they found themselves in a losing position for the first time in the game. The goal that ended up deciding the contest and keeping Käerjéng in the BGL Ligue was scored by one of the leaders of the team on and off the pitch, Fabrice Rosário.
Ultimately, the more experienced team managed to triumph after a topsy-turvy, tension-filled evening, keeping Bettembourg’s BGL Ligue return on hold. The game ended up being a fitting end to a season filled with surprises. Here’s to the next one!