AZ Alkmaar begin their Europa League group campaign with a trip to face Israeli side Maccabi Haifa on Thursday.

  • By Michael Bell
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johannsson bIn a group that also contains Kazakhstan side Shakhter Karagandy, and PAOK from Greece, Gertjan Verbeek will be hoping that AZ will be able to get off to a good start against arguably one of the stronger sides in the group.

AZ are in good league form, and currently sit 5th in the table after a good 3-0 win over Go Ahead Eagles at the weekend.

Coach Verbeek may opt for the same XI that won at the weekend, meaning captain Maarten Martens will start ahead of Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Maartens has been struggling for fitness, but managed an impressive 70 minute showing at the weekend.

However Gudmundsson is in great form so far this season, and recently netted a hat-trick for the Icelandic national team, making his dropping to the bench a surprise.

Maccabi Haifa were runners in Israel last season, and came through their qualifiers with Zhazar Lankaran, Ventspils, and Astra Giurgiu with relative ease. A 3-2 defeat to Ashdod in the league at the weekend sees them sit 7th in the Israeli league, after only two games.

Maccabi have history in Europe, having featured in the Champions League, and UEFA Cup/Europa League on several occasions. Last year they were knocked out of the group stages by Schalke, and Steaua Bucarest, but they managed to beat the Romanian side 5-0 at home.

Likely line-ups:

Maccabi Haifa- Saranov, Meshumar, Keinen, Cocalic, Scheimann , Boccoli, Katan, Rayo, Ezra, Turgeman, Abuhatzira

AZ- Esteban, Johansson, Viergever, Wuytens, Gouweleeuw, Elm, Overtoom, Gudelj, Martens, Beerens, Johannsson

Conclusion;

Israel is never an easy place to go for any side, and AZ Alkmaar will have to be at their best to come away with a win, and Gertjan Verbeek may well settle for a point. Striker Aron Johannsson is on deadly form for the Eredivisie side though, and if AZ can give him the service, the American international can prove the difference between the two sides.




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