AZ Alkmaar face Russian side Anzhi at the AFAS Stadion on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie.

  • By Michael Bell
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az nicsAZ are the last Dutch club left standing in Europe after they saw off Slovan Liberec in the last round, and have a great chance to progress to the quarter finals against Anzhi.

Dick Advocaat’s side are in good form at the moment having won both of their last two league matches 4-0 against RKC Waalwijk, and Heracles. They will also go into the tie against Anzhi looking for revenge after the Russian side hammered them 6-0 on aggregate in the Europa League last season, winning 5-0 at the AFAS Stadion.

However that was a totally different Anzhi side, which featured the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Lacine Traore, and Christopher Samba. Only two of the players, who faced AZ last season could feature on Thursday after the club’s owner Suleyman Kerimov withdrew his funding of the club, which led to a fire sale.

Anzhi are currently bottom of the Russian Premier League, and their win over Rubin Kazan at the weekend was their first of the season, after they lost 11, and drew 8 of their opening 19 league matches. The Europa League has been the only success for the club this season, and they won a tricky tie against Belgian side Genk in the last round after a 2-0 aggregate win.

A counter attacking team, Anzhi will look to defend deep in Holland, and hit AZ Alkmaar on the break, but they will come up against an in form Aron Johannsson. The American international striker put Heracles to the sword with two goals at the weekend, taking his total for the season to 24 goals in 40 matches. However in the Europa League Johannsson has only netted once in the ten ties so far, and he will hope to put that right on Thursday to fire his side into a commanding first leg win.

AZ are likely to remain unchanged from their impressive win at the weekend, while Anzhi are without Rasim Tagirbekov, who was sent off in the match against Genk.

Potential line ups:

AZ- Esteban, Johansson, Viergever, Wuytens, Gouweleeuw, Elm, Gudelj, Ortiz, Beerens, Berghuis, Johannsson

Anzhi- Kerzhakov, Eshchenko, Gadzhibekov, Epureanu, Grigalava, Angbwa, Mkrtchyan, Smolov, Aliyev, Akhmedov, Bukharov

A long trip to Russia awaits next week, and it will be crucial for the Dutch side to take a lead into the second leg if they hope to progress to the next round. Anzhi are nowhere near the same standard as the side that triumphed 5-0 at the AFAS Stadion last season, and if AZ’s front three of Beerens, Johannsson, and Berghuis keep up their recent league form, then a win should be achieved on Thursday.

Its been a hugely disappointing season in Europe for Dutch clubs, except for AZ, and they will hopefully put one foot into the quarter finals on Thursday.

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