DAVID SMITH - Thursday, February 23, 2012
Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore will once again square off as AZ try to finish off Anderlecht, while Jermaine Jones and Schalke will be confident of reaching the final 16 when they welcome Czechs Plzen.
RSC Anderlecht - AZ Alkmaar (agg. 0-1)
Sacha Kljestan will be in Anderlecht's starting lineup on Thursday evening, as they try to overturn a one-goal deficit in front of a raucous home crowd at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium against Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar.
Altidore once again featured as a second-half attacking option in AZ's weekend game, and will likely reprise the role for head coach Gertjan Verbeek on Thursday.
After dropping their first game in several months to their Dutch neighbors in last week's first leg, Kljestan and his teammates bounced back in grand fashion over the weekend, notching up a 3-1 win in Jupiler League play to move seven points clear at the top of the division.
With Alkmaar having been on the wrong side of a 3-0 drubbing on the same day, the Belgians must bee seen as the favorites to advance to the final 16 despite having to overturn the one-goal disadvantage.
For Anderlecht, forward Tom De Sutter will definitely miss the game as he has had to deal with worsening inflammation in his knee, while defender Behrang Safari is questionable after missing the team's weekend game with a pulled muscle.
AZ are not reporting any absences to their traveling squad.
FC Schalke 04 - Viktoria Plzen (agg. 1-1)
After watching Schalke roll off a dominating weekend win to stay within reach of the Bundesliga title, Jermaine Jones could be in the team's starting lineup on Thursday when they try to finish off pesky Czech team Viktoria Plzen.
Schalke's short slide in league play came to a welcome end over the weekend, with a 4-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg keeping them within five points of arch-enemies Dortmund and the Bundesliga lead.
With just one more league game to go before his domestic suspension is finally finished, Jones will likely come straight back into the squad after showing in last week's first-leg game against Plzen that he hadn't lost a step during his long vacation.
Thursday's return leg was expected to be his final warmup before his expected March 3 return to Bundesliga action, however the midfielder might be forced to miss the game after experiencing a muscular problem during the week.
The Königsblauen did have a tougher than expected time to put down the Czechs in last Thursday's first-leg game, needing a 75th-minute equalizer from Klaas Jan Huntelaar to avoid defeat.
The away goal did give them an advantage of sorts, as a Plzen will be forced to score at the Veltins arena if they have any hope of pulling a major upset to reach the final 16.
A victory by either team will see the winner through, although a drawn result could favor either, depending on away goals, or send the game to overtime in the event of an identical score as last week's game.
Schalke come into the game relatively healthy, although they will still be without Peer Kluge and Lewis Holtby as the pair are not yet fully back to game fitness.
The only major absence for Plzen is team captain Pavel Horvath, who will not make the trip due to yellow card accumulation.
Steve Cherundolo will be forced to be a spectator for Hannover's second-leg game at Brugge, as he is suspended for yellow card accumulation. With Hannover leading 2-1 from the home leg, a draw or outright victory will see them through, a multi-goal loss will favor the Belgians, while a single-goal advantage for Brugge could swing either way depending on away goals.
Oguchi Onyewu picked up a knee injury in league play over the weekend, and will be forced to miss the next two months for Sporting. The Lisbon-based club heads into the home leg all knotted at two goals apiece with Polish team Legia Warsaw.