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Alkmaar return to winning ways

Domestic news: AZ Alkmaar have resumed their winning habit but coach Co Adriaanse has defensive problems.

No pressure
Perhaps helped by the pressure being lifted off their shoulders, Alkmaar prevailed 2-1 with first-half goals from midfielders Olaf Lindenbergh and Adil Ramzi putting them in the driving seat. After their first victory in six outings, Alkmaar stay four points behind second-placed AFC Ajax with three Eredivisie matches remaining.

Tactical substitution
Barry Opdam will return for the second leg against Sporting Clube de Portugal having been suspended against Groningen, but Kew Jaliens is a doubt after limping off on 56 minutes with an achilles problem. Barry van Galen was also replaced, but Adriaanse explained: "I wanted the team to play simple A to B football so I substituted Van Galen because he often opts for the A to C option."

Banned pair
Alkmaar, unbeaten at home in Europe this campaign, will be without the banned duo of Lindenbergh and Michael Buskermolen as they attempt to overhaul a 2-1 first-leg deficit at the Alkmaarderhout on Thursday. The visitors have no enforced absences, although a sore right hamstring could prevent Sporting centre-half Joseph Enakarhire taking part.

Enakarhire doubt
Enakarhire suffered the injury 63 minutes into Sporting's 3-0 victory at SC Braga, which kept them three points behind Portuguese SuperLiga leaders SL Benfica with three games to go. The pair meet the weekend after next, by which time coach José Peseiro hopes to be planning for a UEFA Cup final.

Pinilla heroics
Peseiro was shorn of suspended pair Sá Pinto and Anderson Polga and left regulars Pedro Barbosa, Roudolphe Douala, Fabio Rochemback and Liedson on the bench. All four could return against Alkmaar, however, when the in-form Mauricio Pinilla should start for the visitors. The striker came off the bench to score the first-leg winner and then registered a hat-trick against Braga.