Belgian First Division A preview: Vukovic to guard Genk's title defence

He was the bedrock of Genk's Belgian championship win last season and the evergreen Danny Vukovic is set to guard the posts again as the club defends their domestic title and ventures into the UEFA Champions League.

Vukovic joined Genk in 2017 from Sydney FC and like so many great Australian shot-stoppers before him, the 34-year-old continues to get better with age. 

But what's ahead for the Caltex Socceroo gloveman this season? Take a look in our Belgian First Division A preview. 

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Title contenders

Vukovic's defending champions Genk should start early favourites to clinch 2019/20 glory, but rivals Anderlecht and Club Brugge are expected to push The Smurfs all the way. 

Anderlecht have missed out on European football after going up in flames at the end of last season, but have made all the right noises since and have secured former Premier League champions Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) and Samir Nasri (West Ham United) in addition to the cluster of young talent they have purchased from Holland and Germany.

Kompany and Nasri
Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri won the Premier League title together at Manchester City twice (2012, 2014)

Club Brugge, the former employers of Caltex Socceroo Mathew Ryan, have been less active in the transfer market than their Anderlecht rivals, with the purchase of young Nigerian forward David Okereke from Serie B club Spezia Calcio their biggest signing so far.  

Vukovic's Genk have also been quiet in the off-season, but have retained Tanzanian top gun Mbwana Samatta, who netted 23 goals in the league last season.

Genk's biggest signings so far have been a pair of young attacking midfielders: Theo Bongonda from Zulte Waregem, and Ianis Hagi from Romanian club FC Viitorul.

It could be a three-horse race between Genk, Anderlecht and Club Brugge, but expect Gent and Standard Liege to loom as potential dark horses.

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Star players

Genk front man Samatta wowed crowd en route to the club's title run last season, finishing with 23 goals and winning the 'Ebony Shoe Award', the prize handed to the best African player or player of African descent in the Belgian First Division A. 

Other notable stars include Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa of Standard Liege, gifted Club Brugge playmaker Hans Vanaken of Club Brugge, and Vukovic's Genk teammate Sander Berge, a young Norwegian midfielder reportedly on the radar of several top European clubs. 

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Anderlecht starlet Yari Verschaeren is tipped by some to be the new Eden Hazard, and could be a bolt from the blue for the team many believe are the biggest contenders to challenge Genk for the trophy.

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Mbwana Samatta
Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta of Genk

The Aussies

There's no doubt about it - when it comes to the Belgian division's top 'keepers, Aussie Vukovic rules the roost. 

Last season, the former Bonnyrigg White Eagles youth featured in 37 league matches and kept 14 clean sheets, marshalling the competition's meanest defence in the process. 

Vukovic - who holds the record for most appearances in the Hyundai A-League - has been a resounding success since his move from Sydney in June 2017. He is a firm fan favourite, was a crucial part of club's first title win last campaign - the team's first in eight years - and his excellent form saw him rewarded with a two-year contract extension in February.

Newcomers

KV Mechelen have replaced relegated Lokeren after finishing as Belgian First Division B champions in 2018/19.

Opening fixtures

Watch Vukovic in action when Genk welcome Kortrijk to Cristal Arena this Saturday morning, 4.30am AEST kick-off.  

Other standout out fixtures from week one include Standard Liege's trip to Cercle Brugge (Sunday, 2.00am AEST kick-off), and Charleroi's clash with Gent (Monday, 2.00am AEST kick-off).

Vukovic
Danny Vukovic is targeting more success with Belgian heavyweights Genk this season