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AZ Alkmaar are wary of the threat posed by Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals but can take comfort from the Bundesliga side's record against teams from the Netherlands.
Danny Koevermans, who earned his first call-up by the Netherlands today for the forthcoming UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifiers against Romania and Slovenia, has been a major factor in AZ's run to the last eight. He scored a goal in each leg as the Dutch club drew 4-4 on aggregate with Newcastle United FC to progress on away goals, and knows Bremen will push AZ just as hard. "It is a difficult draw," Koevermans said. "We have already knocked out Newcastle and Fenerbahçe [SK], so who knows?"
One possible negative is having to play the first leg at home on 5 April, where Alkmaar have not lost in 29 European games, before travelling to Germany a week later. "I don't know if it is a disadvantage. You never can tell but we certainly have to get a good result at home." Regardless, the former Sparta Rotterdam striker still cannot believe how far he has come. "Two years ago I saw AZ reach the semi-finals on television, now I am part of it myself."
AZ have encountered German opposition once before, in that 2004/05 march to the UEFA Cup last four, earning a 0-0 draw at TSV Alemannia Aachen before going through to the last 16 with a 2-1 home success. Bremen, in contrast, have been pitted against Dutch sides on four occasions and have an underwhelming record. In eight matches, they have lost five and drawn two – though tellingly their only win came in this season's competition and was a real statement of intent.
Thomas Schaaf's men brushed aside AFC Ajax in the Round of 32 with a 3-0 home victory, ultimately advancing 4-3 on aggregate, and then saw off RC Celta de Vigo by a 3-0 margin over two legs. With a tie against either RCD Espanyol or SL Benfica awaiting the winners, Schaaf was happy enough to draw another Eredivisie club, though he was full of praise for Louis van Gaal's outfit and the unrivalled 25 goals they have scored in this current campaign.
"Again a Dutch side," Schaaf said. "We have respect for Alkmaar as they have proved in the past to be a top team in Europe. It won't be easy but we are looking forward to it. Alkmaar can be compared to Ajax and are very strong at home. It is important we get a good result there and then make it perfect in Bremen, because Alkmaar have shown their strength in second-leg matches."
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