Having proudly reached the quarter-finals of a European competition for the fourth time in their history, AZ Alkmaar are aiming to make the most of their impressive home form when they welcome Valencia CF on Thursday, with club captain Niklas Moisander insisting: "If we can get a good result in the first match, then anything is possible."
The 1981 UEFA Cup runners-up remain unbeaten in eight European home games, following a sequence of six wins and two draws which has left their captain confident of landing a first blow against a Valencia side victorious just once on the road in continental competition this term. "Until now it has really worked well for us to play at home first," said Moisander. "
We are stronger at home, so if we can get a good result in the first match, then anything is possible."
The Finnish international's bullishness might be strengthened further by the knowledge that AZ's only previous two-legged success against Spanish opposition came at the same stage of the 2004/05 UEFA Cup, when a 2-1 success at Villarreal CF was followed by a draw in the Netherlands. They were subsequently eliminated on away goals by Sporting Clube de Portugal after extra time of a dramatic semi-final second leg.
Gertjan Verbeek's charges are, however, beginning to feel the effects of a three-pronged trophy quest, which was reduced to two last Thursday when AZ were knocked out in the Dutch Cup semi-final by Heracles Almelo. On Sunday a hard-fought 1-0 victory against RKC Waalwijk proved sufficient to maintain their one-point Eredivisie lead over AFC Ajax and restore momentum for the visit of Valencia.
"Getting knocked out in the cup semi-final was a really big blow for us," added Moisander. "We were desperate to play in that final and win the cup. It was very tough for us and if we'd have dropped points against RKC, then people would have said, 'AZ have broken down and they cannot cope with the disappointment'. That's why we are so relieved with the win."
Though their Liga opponents have had an extra day's rest, following their 3-1 defeat at Getafe CF on Saturday night, Moisander, 26, is just pleased to have four days in which to recharge the batteries before Valencia come visiting. "After our the cup loss, we only had two days to recover. Ahead of Thursday we have one day extra, which is nice. It is an unbelievable and wonderful achievement for us to have come this far in Europe and to be playing against such a great club."
Coach Verbeek was Foppe de Haan's assistant at sc Heerenveen when they lost 1-0 at home and drew 1-1 away against Valencia in the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League group stage, and he is playing down his club's prospects. "When I first heard the draw I thought, 'The third-best side in Spain is a bit better than the fourth-best in Italy [round of 16 opponents Udinese Calcio]'. The further you come, the stronger the opposition. That is the consequence, but that can only be a beatutiful thing of course.
"I don't think we will win the Europa League. Just looking at the budget and the players Valencia have, then they have a 70/30 advantage. In football, though, there is always a chance that the smaller sides can topple the big ones. It's nice to play the home leg first, too, so who knows what will happen?"
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