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Season review: Netherlands

Published: Tuesday 2 June 2009, 15.15CET
The traditional giants of Dutch football – AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord – all had an off-season, but that can take nothing away from new champions AZ Alkmaar, FC Twente and cup winners SC Heerenveen.
by Berend Scholten
Season review: Netherlands
AZ pop the cork of their title champagne in Alkmaar ©AFP
Published: Tuesday 2 June 2009, 15.15CET

Season review: Netherlands

The traditional giants of Dutch football – AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord – all had an off-season, but that can take nothing away from new champions AZ Alkmaar, FC Twente and cup winners SC Heerenveen.

The traditional giants of Dutch football – AFC Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord – had a pretty miserable season, but that can take nothing away from champions AZ Alkmaar, runners-up FC Twente and cup winners SC Heerenveen.

Champions: AZ Alkmaar
Eleventh last season, AZ lost their first two games but a 1-0 win against reigning champions PSV on 20 September 2008 proved to be the turning point, with Louis van Gaal's side going 28 games unbeaten until losing 2-1 at home against BV Vitesse on 18 April. Nonetheless, they took their second title – following their maiden success in 1981 – a day later, with three games to spare. Not a spectacular side, both PSV and Ajax outscored their 66 goals, but no one came close to their miserly defensive record: they conceded just 22 all season.

Cup final: SC Heerenveen 2-2 FC Twente (aet; Heerenveen won 5-4 on penalties)
Having lost their previous two cup finals, it was third time lucky for Heerenveen. They went ahead through Goran Popov but Eljero Elia replied after the break to force extra time. Bonaventure Kalou restored Heerenveen's lead, but Youssouf Hersi levelled in the 117th minute. However, he was to be the villain of the piece, missing the only penalty in the shoot-out to give Trond Sollied's side the first major trophy in their history.

European places
AZ Alkmaar – UEFA Champions League group stage
FC Twente – UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
AFC Ajax – UEFA Europe League play-off round
SC Heerenveen – UEFA Europe League play-off round
PSV Eindhoven – UEFA Europe League third qualifying round
NAC Breda – UEFA Europe League second qualifying round.

Player of the Year: Mounir El Hamdaoui (AZ Alkmaar)
The Rotterdam-born Moroccan international came to full bloom in his second year at AZ with his 23 strikes helping the 24-year-old become the league's top scorer. Responsible for almost 35 per cent of his side's goals, the former SBV Excelsior, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Derby County FC and Willem II had never previously hinted at such proficiency.

One to watch: Eljero Elia (FC Twente)
The 22-year-old right-sided winger played in all of Twente's Eredivisie games and scored nine goals to win the Johan Cruyff Award as Young Player of the Year. Fast, skilful and versatile, he has an eye for goal and can operate on both wings as well as in a central position. Once an Ajax youth player, he is an established Under-21 international and received his first senior Oranje call-up in June 2009.

Surprise package: NAC Breda
Having finished in a historic high of third place last term, Robert Maaskant's side missed out on a UEFA Cup place in the end-of-season play-offs, and while NAC had a less eye-catching campaign this time round, finishing eighth, they shone in the play-offs. After beating Feyenoord, earning their first away win at De Kuip, victory against FC Groningen opened the door to the UEFA Europa League. "This feels like a major prize," said Maaskant.

Leading scorer: Mounir El Hamdaoui, AZ Alkmaar (23)

Number: 50
For the first time in 50 years, the top two in the league featured neither Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV.

Quote
"With the championship mission accomplished I asked permission to leave. It feels good that after four years AZ still tried to keep me here, but it is also fantastic when a club like Bayern do all they can to get you. You dream of clubs like Bayern, so I am a happy man."
Louis Van Gaal, AZ coach, who has agreed to take over at FC Bayern München.

Last updated: 02/06/09 15.25CET

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