Belgian season starts under cloud of corruption

July 27, 2006

BRUSSELS, July 27 (Reuters) - The Belgian soccer season kicks off this weekend under the cloud of a police investigation into alleged match-fixing.

Belgian police have yet to conclude their investigation, launched last November after betting exchange Betfair logged heavy betting patterns.

A number of players, coaches and club representatives have already admitted to being involved and face charges. But a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor told Reuters that 'there is a lot more to come after the summer break'.

A tainted season was plunged into darker depths when a number of clubs were stripped of their professional licences and relegated before being reinstated after giving financial guarantees.

On the pitch, Anderlecht begin their title defence at Sint Truiden on Sunday and, following a busy close season on the transfer front, are favourites to retain their crown.

Coach Frank Vercauteren had to move quickly after the departures of key players like defender Vincent Kompany to Hamburg SV for 10 million euros and Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson to Nantes for three million.

The former Anderlecht player, who won the title in his first season in charge, has brought in nine new faces including Kompany's fellow Belgian international Jelle Van Damme from Southampton and Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan from Besiktas.

Hassan was named player of the tournament during this year's African Nations Cup.

Vercauteren has also added three young newcomers from Argentina who will hook-up with fellow countryman and striker Nicolas Frutos, scorer of nine goals in 11 games since joining in January.

Standard Liege, who were pipped by Anderlecht for the title on the final day of the season, start at Lokeren with a new coach in Johan Boskamp.

The 56-year-old Dutchman, who left Stoke City at the end of last season, knows all about Belgian football having won the title there as a player before going on to coach Anderlecht, Beveren and Racing Genk.

The biggest clear-out in the summer was at Club Bruges, who entertain Ghent in their opening match on Friday. The 2004 champions scraped home in third place, forcing a wind of change with 12 players departing in the close season.

On paper, the top three should finish as they did in April with Ghent and Racing Genk, who entertain Zulte Waregem in their first match, aiming to force their way in or mount a good cup run.