Quarter-finalists two seasons ago, AZ Alkmaar are seeking to emulate that feat after qualifying for the UEFA Europa League round of 32 in impressive fashion.
Defender Nick Viergever, who featured in their run to the last eight in 2012, was quick to stress the current class are not yet the finished article, however. "That was a fantastic year, we had a very good team," said the 24-year-old. "Everyone knew their role and we were very effective. Our team is not quite there yet, but it has time to grow."
The Dutch Eredivisie side nonetheless have every reason to think big after topping Group L without losing a game under Dick Advocaat – a winner of this competition with FC Zenit in 2008. "The coach is hugely important for us," said forward Aron Jóhannsson. "With his experience, we can go far. He's won it before so his advice at this stage of a competition is priceless."
"He's such a nice guy who brings with him a wealth of experience. He has achieved so much in his career, from being the Russia coach to winning lots of domestic trophies. He transmits that experience to our young group of players. He is still very motivated and eager to do well," added Viergever.
Reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1981 remains AZ's greatest achievement in European competition. Now the UEFA Europa League is their source of pride and motivation. "Every game helps you develop and improve as a player," explained winger Johann Gudmundsson, who registered three times in the group stage. "Playing against great European opponents gives you an opportunity to showcase your talent."
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