DAVID SMITH - Saturday, April 21, 2012
Jozy Altidore and AZ desperately need at home against VVV Venlo on Sunday afternoon if they have any hope of making a late move back to the top of the Eredivisie standings.
AZ Alkmaar - VVV-Venlo
Now with a six-point gap separating them from leaders Ajax and a number of teams lurking in their shadow, Jozy Altidore and AZ need to break their three-game winless streak in league play to avoid losing out on a shot at Champions League play.
A run of three straight winless games, two of them to teams within the top five of the Eredivisie, have possibly cost AZ their shot at the title, and have put them in the thick of the mix of teams gunning for second place.
Their attacking players have hardly been at fault, but a porous defense that has allowed seven goals in those three games - with a 4-0 Europa League loss to Valencia sandwiched in the middle - has left them in their current difficult predicament.
By all accounts, Venlo should be an easy target to start any kind of late come-back for the title, as the team looks certain to contest the relegation playoffs, and has lost their last six on the trot.
AZ had no problems to beat the team the first time around in October, having a shut-out spoiled only by a 90th-minute consolation goal from Robert Cullen in the 3-1 victory.
The only absence for AZ is midfielder Celso Ortiz, who is still out with a knee problem, while Venlo have a full squad.
Charles Kazlauskas is recovering from an injury and was in uniform on Friday when Helmond Sport gave up a late equalizer to settle for a 1-1 draw at BV Veendam.