West Ham United v AZ Alkmaar: match preview

Preview Percy has been perplexed by our semi-final opponents missing numbers. All will be explained in his look at Thursday’s visit of AZ Alkmaar...

Next up we entertain AZ Alkmaar in the Thursday Night Conference league semi-final first leg. Kick-off is at 8pm with coverage on the box courtesy of BT.

Now there is one question that has been bugging me for ages, but particularly since the draw potentially placed us together for this one. And it is this: What happened to the '67'?

Now I realise that the you reading this are probably saying “what’s the old so and so going on about?” Well it’s like this. For those of us whose foundation knowledge of European geography grew from knowing which towns and cities are in which countries as a result of keeping an eye on UEFA competitions, our opponents were always known as 'AZ 67 Alkmaar'.

This resulted from the club’s formation in 1967 after a merger between Alkmaar 54 and FC Zaanstreek. They were certainly '67' when I saw them whilst on a football tour in 1981 where they laboured to a 1-1 draw with home side MVV Maastricht, though since it was a football tour and the late Preview Alastair was present my memories of the weekend are somewhat hazy. A few weeks later they played Ipswich in the UEFA Cup Final, the Tractor Boys winning 5-4 on aggregate.

Anyhow, for those who are interested in these things, the '67' seems to have been quietly dropped circa 1986 or thereabouts. If anyone finds it I’m sure they’d be grateful if you handed it in.

Their progress in this competition started back in the second qualifying round back in July where they encountered Tuzla City of, It says here, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia and USSR has played havoc with my geographical knowledge as learned in the 1960s, I can tell you.

A 5-0 aggregate win saw them qualify for the third qualifying round, A few eyebrows were raised when they lost the first leg 1-0 to Dundee United at Tannadice. However, all fears of an upset were quickly dispelled as they jogged to a 7-0 win over the Sweaties in the home leg.

Next up came the play-off round where a 4-0 first leg home win over Portuguese side Gil Vicente was followed up with a 2-1 win in Barcelos to put them into a group alongside Dnipro-1, Apollon Limassol, and Liechtenstein outfit Vaduz. Unsurprisingly they waltzed through a group of such, er, mixed quality, the one blip along the way being a 1-0 defeat in Limassol.

The knockout stages were next and, to the surprise of some, they won 2-1 both home and away against Lazio which set up a tie against our fellow group mates Anderlecht. Both ties finished 2-0 to the home side, with Alkmaar’s home leg staying that way through extra time. Kicks from the penalty mark were due and the Dutchmen prevailed 4-1 in the shoot out to set them up for this tie.

In the league they are comfortably in fourth place with 61 points from 31 games. They are fighting alongside Ajax and PSV for the so-called Champions League and Thursday Night League spots, with Alkmaar currently in the Thursday Night Conference slot.

They have a former Premier League player in their midst in the form of ‘keeper Matt Ryan spent a few years with Brighton and on loan at Arsenal. The Aussie’s four-season stay on these shores ended and he had a season with Real Sociadad without really making much of an impression.

After one season he upped sticks and signed a two-year deal with Copenhagen. Things didn’t improve much there and he left only six months into his contract. He’s had more joy since his move to the Netherlands playing 19 times since signing in January.

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Daisy tells me that the top scorer this season is Vangelis Pavlides. The Greek international has scored 22 in 34 matches across all competitions, including nine in 11 European matches. Those goals put him level top of the Dutch goalscoring charts alongside Santiago Gimenez of runaway leaders Feyenoord.

Danish striker Jens Odegaard is a doubt for this one, he pulled up lame with a thigh strain in the weekend’s 0-0 draw at Ajax however reports suggest that he may have improved enough to have some involvement on Thursday. One definite absentee will be promising Hungarian left back Milos Kerkez. The 19-year-old is suspended after one yellow card too many but will be about for the second leg.

A quick look now at the wild and wacky world of Association Football. And firstly let’s have a laugh at Millwall’s capitulation against Blackburn which saw them go from 3-1 up to 4-3 down, plummeting out of the playoff zone in the process.

I managed to catch the second half in a pub some eight miles from the New Den, a ground where, even for a match that important, not all stands were open. There were four or five of their number in the hostelry, none of whom could see the irony about moaning about the opposition support when they couldn’t be bothered to cross the road and endure a 15 minute train ride to get to the match themselves.

Their failure to get promotion will at least mean that Liverpool will be unchallenged for the title of the Premier League club with the scummiest support. Fresh from jeering a nonagenarian with years of service to her country they elected to jeer the National Anthem this weekend whilst, no doubt taking full advantage of the public holiday the Coronation afforded.

Meanwhile the gusto with which the anthem was sung elsewhere – including at the Olympic - was, at least in part, a two-fingered salute to a bunch of fans who still have no conception of how much contempt most normal fans have for them.

In the meantime here’s a thought: If you don’t agree with standing for a moment’s silence or singing an anthem, the class thing to do would be to simply sit down with your arms folded. That way you make your point without imposing your petty self-pitying prejudices on others.

And so to us. I admit I had a feeling about last Sunday – as I said in these here pages my main worry was that our good work might be undone by the decidedly iffy refereeing we have had to face in recent weeks. And I was very nearly right.

The win itself was well deserved – a 15-minute spell in the first half did see them pepper shots toward Fabianski’s goal but, tellingly, these rarely required a save. On the other hand even when we were on the break we somehow looked more threatening.

The goal itself was, of course a thing of much hilarity. That Benrahma shot at all was a function of the fact that he had run out of other options, surrounded as he was by defenders not wanting to put in a tackle. So in went the shot.

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The crowd reaction was similar to that which happened in the 1976 CWC Semi against Eintracht – a groan greeting the point at which Keith Robson failed to take Brooking’s superb pass in his stride. Within seconds the groans turned to unbounded deep joy as the ball curled its way into the top left corner.

In this case audible disappointment at the power (or more accurately lack of power) of the shot turning to unbounded joy as everyone realised that De Gea had made a complete mess of it. Doubly amusing really since in recent matches against us he’s been their MotM.

Then there was the penalty incident. Even Dermot Gallagher was forced to break the habit of a lifetime, almost whispering his “it’s a penalty” verdict under his voice, before going on to tell everyone how hard a job it was being a referee. Yes Dermot but, in this instance, not THAT hard.

There was some nonsense about the player’s hand being in front of his body, as if that somehow made everything alright. It wasn’t. The only statement that should be coming out of PGMOL should be one explaining why two referees elected to ignore the laws of the game, potentially affecting the result in a match that mattered to both sides.

To that there are two possible answers. One is they didn’t have a clue what they were doing, in which case they should be sent away until they do know. The other is that they knew exactly what they were doing, in which case they should be sent away until the fraud squad catch up with them.

On the footballing front, the second half was all ours and only some frantic defending and, ironically, goalkeeping, coupled with more iffy refereeing really kept them in the game. The good news is that it would take an incredibly unlikely series of results to send us down. The bad news is that with PGMOL running the show those results are a wee bit more likely than if we were to have an honest official in the middle.

Vladimir Coufal and, of course, Luca Scamacca are definitely ruled out whilst there is the tiniest chance that Kurt Zouma might be about – he has been seen training on the green stuff but it’s more likely that this game is too soon for him.

So the prediction. Well it is true that AZ are the strongest team we have had to face in the competition. However, arguably, the same goes from them.

Daisy’s perusal of various Dutch football sites suggests that they will be coming to the Olympic with a view to still being in the tie after the first leg, the inference being that they are a different side at home. For our part we need to be looking to impose ourselves on the tie. I reckon we’ll win and by a margin that will put us in the box seat without making us totally clear.

So the £2.50 that I was going to spend at the Millwall promotion party will instead be placed on us to win 3-1. Make it so Mr Winstone.

Enjoy the game!

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When last we met at the Olympic N/A

This will be the clubs’ first competitive meeting.

Referee: Halil Meler (TUR)

Turkish FIFA official who, with this game, will have appeared in all three European competitions this season. Record suggests that he’s not over card-happy and you have to go back to March for his last red.

Danger Man: Vangelis Pavides

Top scorer and the focal point for their attacks.

Percy & Daisy’s Poser-Type Thing

Last time we gave you this:

Sleep deprived lorry driver gave a cockerel called Eddy XXXXX XXXXXX because XX XXXX XXXXXX XXX XX

If you are an animal lover look away now. Well done to Mrs Dorothea Yeast-Wrangler of Laindon who correctly identified the missing words as Brain Damage and he kept waking her up.

Ok you can come back into the room now.

When we do a European thing we often look at things entitled “10 Interesting things about…” With Alkmaar they were struggling after “it’s got a cheese market” so thank heaven for NL News which gave us a headline to work with:

”Bomb” that forced evacuation of Alkmaar courthouse was XXXXX XXX”

Good luck everyone!

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