Royal Antwerp FC breathed a sigh of relief against Istanbul Basaksehir on Thursday evening, securing a 1-1 away draw in the first leg of the fourth and final preliminary round of the Conference League.
Playing on Turkish soil, the Great Old seemed forced to recognise the superiority of the opposing side but came away with a good result, in the end, thanks to a late equaliser.
The Belgian side seemed a bit hesitant in the first half but still managed to create the best chances on the metropolitans' field. However, Michael Frey and Jurgen Ekkelenkamp were unable to secure an Antwerp lead.
After the break, Mark van Bommel’s troops soon had to play catch-up after a flash from Mounir Chouiar in the 54th minute. The young Frenchman tricked his closest marker, Dinis Almeida, before beating Antwerp goalkeeper Jean Butez with a handsome diagonal strike.
Halfway through the second half, Butez prevented the damage from increasing with a crucial reflexive save.
The Jupiler Pro League leaders finally secured the draw in the 88th minute, when Almeida sent a header past Basaksehir goalie Volkan Babacan, atoning fully for his mistake that had led to the opposing goal.
Antwerp can now look forward with confidence to next week’s return match in the Bosuil stadium. The Antwerp side is certain of making the group phase of the Conference League, provided that it wins.