By Berend Scholten
The Netherlands is continuing to revel in the achievements of AZ Alkmaar who have defied all expectations at home and abroad.
Co Adriaanse's side stand on the brink of the UEFA Cup quarter-finals after a 3-1 win at FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie last night. With PSV Eindhoven already in the uncharted waters of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, and the Dutch national team riding high in FIFA World Cup qualifying, Alkmaar are surfing a wave of Oranje optimism.
Working hard and deploying clever tactics has been key for Alkmaar, second in the Eredivisie, this season. "The triumph was fully deserved," wrote the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper in hailing last night's "ice-cold" performance, adding: "AZ again underlined that the team has grown up." Meanwhile, De Volkskrant marvelled at how Adriaanse's side had beaten more illustrious and expensively assembled opponents - "AZ leaves the million-dollar team behind in the cold", ran its headline.
The Alkmaar way is seen as an example for other Eredivisie clubs, with an emphasis on promising Dutch talent rather than foreign stars. Certainly, Adriaanse and technical manager Martin van Geel are reaping the rewards of their homegrown policy. Of last night's starting XI, nine were Dutchmen with the two foreign forwards on view - Dane Kenneth Perez and Moroccan Tarik Sektioui - having spent nine and six years in the country respectively.
Netherlands coach Marco van Basten has filled his new-look national side with Alkmaar players, further proof of the excellent job being done at the Alkmaarderhout. In fact, while most Dutch are delighting in AZ's achievements, perhaps only AFC Ajax will be casting envious glances at the success of their former coach. "We played the classic Ajax style, with three defenders and one player right in front of them," Adriaanse said, summing up their latest triumph.
After such a thrilling first-leg performance against Shakhtar, Alkmaar could be forgiven for starting to dream of going all the way. Certainly, goalkeeper Henk Timmer has let his thoughts drift to the 18 May final in Portugal. "Where is all this taking us? To Lisbon, I hope," he said. On the evidence of the season so far, why not?
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