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Betis braced for AZ challenge

Real Betis Balompié's hopes of a smooth transition to the UEFA Cup will be tested against an AZ Alkmaar team with a fearsome reputation in the competition.

After an impressive UEFA Champions League debut which brought victory against one of the tournament favourites, Chelsea FC, Real Betis Balompié will be hoping to carry that form into the UEFA Cup. AZ Alkmaar will be their opponents in the Round of 32, taking an unbeaten record into the game as they seek to improve on last year's performance when they were eliminated in the semi-finals.

• Betis' UEFA Champions League campaign got off to a sluggish start in Group G as they quickly fell two goals behind against Liverpool FC on Matchday 1, although Arzu García did score a second-half consolation - the club's first ever goal in the competition. They earned their first points in their next outing against RSC Anderlecht but were brought back to earth with a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea. Dani's goal was enough to ensure revenge in the reverse fixture and although they then drew with Liverpool, a final-day defeat at home to Anderlecht meant they ended on a disappointing note.

• AZ cruised into the UEFA Cup knockout stages after picking up three wins and a draw in Group D. Shota Arveladze and Tarik Sektioui were both on target as they opened with a 2-1 victory against FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, and the latter thought he had scored again at home to Middlesbrough but the strike was ruled out as AZ were held. The Moroccan striker did get his second of the campaign against PFC Litex Lovech in Bulgaria, and AZ ended the group stage with a 1-0 win against Grasshopper-Club at the Alkmaarderhout.

• Betis and AZ have never before met in UEFA competition, but both have previously encountered opposition from their respective countries. The Spanish team were have pleasant memories of their only other matches against Dutch opposition, when they overcame Willem II in the second round of the 1998/99 UEFA Cup.

• Xisco Muñoz was part of the side that earned a 1-1 draw in the Netherlands in the first leg. Betis walked away with the tie in the return, however, as Finidi George, Benjamín Esono and Fernando Cipitria all scored in a comfortable 3-0 win.

• AZ have never lost in normal time against Spanish opposition either, a notable record considering the calibre of their two previous opponents. In the 1977/78 UEFA Cup they were paired with FC Barcelona in the second round and took the lead through Kristen Nygaard just before half-time. Dutch international Johan Neeskens soon equalised for the visitors as Barça earned a draw. The second leg also ended 1-1 and the tie was eventually decided on penalties when AZ's hero from the first leg, Nygaard, missed the decisive spot-kick.

• The Alkmaar outfit enjoyed better fortune last season when they saw off Villarreal CF in the quarter-finals of the same competition. Much of the work was done in Spain where captain Denny Landzaat and Robin Nelisse scored in a 2-1 victory at El Madrigal. Kenneth Perez then added an early goal at the Alkmaarderhout, and although Villarreal equalised on the night, AZ went through to the semi-finals on aggregate, where they lost on away goals to Sporting Clube de Portugal.