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AZ Alkmaar are proving a considerable challenge to Sporting Clube de Portugal's attempts to reach the UEFA Cup final on home soil. The Dutch side lost the first leg 2-1 in Lisbon last week but were content with their away goal in what is their first tie against a Portuguese club in UEFA club competitions.
Alkmaar are now within a win of emulating the side which reached and lost the two-legged 1981 UEFA Cup final to Ipswich Town FC. Alkmaar also won the league and Dutch Cup double that season and this campaign has proved to be the most rewarding since that era. The loss in Lisbon was Alkmaar's second in the UEFA Cup following a 2-0 reverse at Graz AK with qualification to the knockout stages already assured.
Alkmaar have won five of their six home games in the UEFA Cup, with their only draw coming in their last match against Villarreal CF - a result which saw the Dutch challengers through to the last four and the end of Spanish involvement in Europe. Their overall record is nine wins, two draws and two defeats in their 13 games, with a goal difference of 22-13. Eight players have scored those goals, with Denny Landzaat scoring four of them including the strike at Sporting.
Sporting bring an impressive record against Dutch clubs into the second leg. Their first-leg victory was their tenth win against Dutch clubs in eleven matches and the Lisbon club have won their previous five ties against Eredivisie opposition, including a success against Feyenoord in the first knockout round this season. The Portuguese SuperLiga's leading scorer, Liedson, was the scourge of Feyenoord with a goal in both 2-1 victories.
Sporting's only blemish in a match against a Dutch club came against Feyenoord in the return leg of a 1985/86 UEFA Cup first-round tie, going down 2-1. However, a 3-1 first-leg advantage secured by two Manuel Fernandes goals was enough for Sporting to advance. In the 1958/59 European Champion Clubs' Cup, Sporting beat DOS Utrecht 4-3 in the Netherlands and 2-1 at home, with Ivson de Freitas scoring four times in the tie.
Then in the 1988/89 UEFA Cup first round Sporting gained the major scalp of AFC Ajax with a 4-2 home win and a 2-1 success in Amsterdam, before beating SBV Vitesse in the third round of the 1990/91 UEFA Cup with a 2-0 win in Arnhem and a 2-1 victory at home. A fine record of ten wins in eleven games against Dutch opposition has provided a goal difference of 26-14.
Sporting have suffered just one away defeat in the competition so far this season, 1-0 at Newcastle United FC in the first leg of their quarter-final tie. Sporting have also won three times and drawn twice in the six matches on their travels this season. Liedson is their top scorer with eight goals, while goalkeeper Ricardo has played in all 13 games.
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