DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, May 1, 2012
With their chance at the title now wasted, Jozy Altidore and AZ will try to climb back into Champions League qualification in their final two games, beginning with a trip to NEC Nijmegen.
The weekend's heartbreaking loss at Feyenoord Rotterdam left Altidore and the rest of Gertjan Verbeek's squad three points out of second place and a seat at Europe's top table for next season.
Their only route is now hoping that both Rotterdam and current third-place team PSV Eindhoven slip up over their last two games, while undoubtedly needing to win both of their final two tilts.
The trip to Nijmegen could very well be the confidence-building break they need, and furthermore will conjure up fine memories for Altidore. AZ blew NEC away by a 4-0 score in August, with the American putting in a fine two-goal performance.
Furthermore, their hosts have gone three straight without a win, although still have a decent chance of reaching the post-season playoff for the country's final Europa League spot should they win even one of their final two games.
The good news for AZ is that midfielder Rasmus Elm will return to the squad after missing the weekend game due to the birth of his daughter. However the team will certainly suffer from the likely absences of Roy Beerens and Maarten Martens, the former with an ankle problem and the latter due to thigh and Achilles tendon issues.
NEC have a number of players set to miss, most notably suspended forward Leroy George and his likewise suspended defensive teammate Bram Byutinck. Otherwise, forward Stef Nijland, midfielder John Goossens and defender Niels Wellenberg are set to miss with injuries, although midfielder Ryan Koolwijk does return to action.