AZ Alkmaar host Belgian side Royal Antwerp in the first-leg of their Europa League playoff on Thursday. Kick-off is 7.30pm.

Arnie Slot’s side eased past BK Hacken and Mariupol in the previous rounds and now standing between them and a Europa League group stage spot is Belgian side Royal Antwerp.

AZ won their opening two games in the Eredivisie but where held to a 0-0 draw at the weekend by Groningen.

Opponents, Royal Antwerp, who finished fourth in Belgium last season, have made a very good start to the season. They currently sit fourth in the league after three wins out of four games. In Europe, Antwerp nervously overcame Viktoria Plzen in the last round via extra time.

Slot has a lot of respect for the physical Belgian side and expects the tie to be 50-50, “They eliminated Viktoria Plzen in the previous round and they came from the preliminary round of the Champions League. That says something. Antwerp has many older players, so a lot of experience.

“They still know goalkeeper Bolat in Alkmaar, Mbokani is still very good and I think Refaelov is really an excellent player. We must be prepared for the hardness and fighting spirit. I am not afraid, but I note that it is a tough physical team.

“We have to play through it as it is called. We want to put high pressure and play offensive, Antwerp will collapse. Both teams have their own way of playing and their own way of defending. Their counter is dangerous, we have to be prepared for that. In the preparation we played a lot against Belgian teams, but that says nothing now. I expect a very equal fight. This is definitely not an easy opponent, we know that very well.”

The match will be played in FC Twente’s Grolsche Veste Stadion with work still being done to the roof at the AFAS Stadion.

Team News

Slot rested Stijn Wuytens and Ron Vlaar at the weekend after the centre-back duo picked up small knocks but both should come back into the starting line-up on Thursday.

Possible AZ line-up: Bizot, Svensson, Wijndal, Vlaar, Wuytens, Koopmeiners, Midtso, Ouwejan, Idrissi, Stengs, Boadu

Antwerp have an experienced side with former Manchester United and Leicester City defender Ritchie de Laet set to start. The danger man will be former Dinamo Kiev and Norwich striker Dieumerci Mbokani, who already has five goals in four games.

Possible Antwerp line-up: Teunckens, Buta, Quirynen, De Laet, De Sart, Hongla, Seck, Refaelov, Ze, Baby, Mbokani

Odds

AZ 8/11 Draw 11/4 Antwerp 7/2

What to expect from the first-leg

Royal Antwerp are a team on the rise in Belgium and this will be a massive test for AZ Alkmaar on Thursday.

Slot’s side have been a joy to watch so far due to the attacking talents of Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu, but they have also been solid at the back and are yet to concede a goal.

Vlaar and Wuytens will get their toughest test of the season yet on Thursday up against Mbokani and keeping the striker quiet will be key to victory.

It is crucial that AZ take a lead to Belgium next week.

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