Paris Saint-Germain’s three-pronged forward line of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a frightening prospect for Anderlecht’s defenders, but it is an attack of another kind that both clubs fear when they play their Champions League match in Brussels on Wednesday.
Both teams have a reputation for ferocious hooligan elements among their supporters, and the last time they met in European competition, in the UEFA Cup in 1992, there was violence outside the grounds – as well as seats thrown onto the pitch by Belgian fans at the Parc des Princes.
At Anderlecht, every match is risky
The new PSG era under the Qatar Investment Authority has coincided with the expulsion from the Parc of their own violent elements in the once-notorious Boulogne and Auteuil stands.
But stopping those elements from crossing into Belgium to meet up with their northern counterparts is a different matter.
“At Anderlecht, every match is risky,” police commissioner Phillipe Boucar told the L’Equipe newspaper.
“We have a hardcore of about 150 supporters, who can be reinforced by a number of supporters from Ajax Amsterdam. And then, we have the bad reputation of certain supporters of PSG.”
The French club has already taken the step of not issuing tickets on the day of the game, or if fans try to get themselves to Belgium rather than using transport laid on by PSG.
But the ultras, especially those who have grown used to watching games on TV during their exile from the Parc, are likely to be more interested in a fight than in football.
The ‘Boulogne Boys’ in particular have long modelled themselves on British hooligan groups like Chelsea’s Headhunters and Cardiff’s Soul Crew, and like them have adopted the tactics of phoning the opposition to arrange a fight away from police attention.
“With certain of those we come up against, we’ve known them a long time,” L’Equipe quoted one of the Boulogne element expelled from the Parc as saying on Tuesday.
“We could also have a beer with them in the evening.”
Whatever happens to occupy the police on Wednesday, it’s likely to be well away from the Constant Vanden Stock stadium, where Anderlecht face a team that is unbeaten in 28 matches.
PSG last lost in Ligue 1 on March 2, while their previous actual defeat in the Champions League was more than a year ago (their exit to Barcelona last season was on away goals).
Even if Anderlecht manage to contain the Parisians, there is always the chance that Ibrahimovic will pull off a moment of genius like he did against Bastia at the weekend.
His goal has been talked about with similar awe to the descriptions of the one for Sweden against England last year, and is yet another reason why it’s a shame we will have to settle for either Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo, and not both, at next year’s World Cup.
Ibrahimovic, at 32, will be determined either way to get his hands on club football’s biggest prize before the waning of his powers sets in, and PSG have made a good start with six points from their two Group C games so far, while Anderlecht have lost both.