DAVID SMITH - Thursday, January 19, 2012
Jozy Altidore hopes to return to AZ's starting lineup when they look for a second straight win over Ajax while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond can continue their hot streak against MVV Maastricht.

AZ Alkmaar - Ajax Amsterdam

After beginning Thursday's KNVB Cup game on the bench, Jozy Altidore will hope that an impressive performance by his replacement Charlison Benschop has not sent him too far down the pecking order when AZ host Ajax on Sunday.

AZ made the most of their Cup replay with Ajax on Thursday afternoon, pulling out a 3-2 victory in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 school children to reach the final eight of the competition.

Unfortunately for Altidore, he was pushed to the bench in favor of Benschop, who made a strong case for maintaining his spot in the starting eleven by contributing a goal and assist in the victory.

The second meeting of AZ and Ajax in barely over three days carries nearly as much weight as the first, as the hosts are carrying a mere one-point lead atop the Eredivisie standings into the game, and could be passed by PSV Eindhoven should they fall short of victory.

A road win by the Amsterdam heavyweights would also pull them firmly back into the title discussion, as it would leave them a maximum of four points behind the top spot.

Prior to Thursday's cup tilt, these teams have met once prior in the season, playing to a 2-2 draw in Amsterdam which saw AZ relinquish a two-goal lead in the final 45 minutes.

AZ have no absences to speak of with the only major change to their roster over the winter being the loss of midfielder Pontus Wernbloom to Russian club CSKA Moscow.

Ajax are not so lucky, and are carrying a quartet of injuries into the game. Most critically, starting defender Gregory van der Wiel is out with a groin injury.

Additionally, bench forwards Lorenzo Ebecilio and Derk Boerrigter are both out with back problems, and occasionally-used defender Nicolai Boilesen is suffering from a hamstring pull.

Helmond Sport - MVV Maastricht

Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond will try to extend their unbeaten run at the start of 2012 to three games on Friday evening as they host MVV Maastricht.

A narrow 1-0 win over last-place AGOVV on Monday evening was Helmond's first since early-November, and the result pulled the struggling team up to 12th in the Eerste Divisie standings, even on points with Friday opponents Maastricht.

The result, combined with their draw over the weekend against FC Eindhoven is a marked improvement over their four-game losing streak to end 2011, and the hope is that it will serve as a springboard for the team to make a run in the second half of the season towards a berth in the eight-team promotion playoff.

The first game between these teams in mid-October was a memorable one, after the controversial sending off of Maastricht player Bryan Smeets in the 89th minute led to Helmond pulling back from a two-goal deficit in injury time to salvage an unthinkable 3-3 draw.

Helmond are without a number of players due to suspension and injury. At the top of the list is forward Sebastian Stachnik, who was sent off in Monday's game, along with midfielder Georgios Niklitsiotis who was earlier forced out of the game with injury.

In addition, defender Guus Joppen and midfielder Juanito Sequeira are both still out due to suspension, and defender Philipp Haastrup, forwards Pepijn Veerman and Marc Nygaard along with midfielders Benjamin Bahtiri and Ayden Kuijpers were all absent from Monday's game due to injury.

Maastricht are also not without their staffing concerns. Defender Sjors Verdellen and midfielder Tom Daemen are both serving one0game suspensions for yellow card accumulation, forwards Sven Braken and Antonio Caramazza will miss the game with a knee problem and flu virus, defender Haybar Moustafa is out with a knee problem, and fellow defender Sjoerd Winkens is a question mark as he also recovers from a knee injury.

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