DAVID SMITH - Friday, March 21, 2014
Aron Johannsson learned their fate for the Europa League quarterfinal on Friday afternoon, and face a tough two-legged tie with Portuguese powerhouse Benfica.
AZ narrowly defeated Russian team Anzhi Makhachkala by a combined 1-0 scoreline over two legs, impressively holding their opponents to a scoreless draw in Russia in Thursday's second leg.
Johannsson was the hero of the other leg, netting the lone goal which ultimately ended up being the deciding factor.
Their opponents-to-be Benfica had a much more goal-happy route to the final eight, first taking a surprisingly easy 3-1 result in the first leg at English opponents Tottenham, then hanging on for a 2-2 home-leg draw on Thursday for a combined 5-3 win.
Benfica are currently leading the Portuguese league by an eight-point gap, and will certainly be considered favorites over a Dutch team that is mired in a fight to simply qualify for the Europa League next season.
This will be the first time that these two teams have squared off in European competition, although AZ has suffered heartbreak at the hands of Portuguese in the latter stages of this competition before.
They made it all the way to the semifinal round of the UEFA Cup in the 2004-05 season, but were eventually knocked out in extra time by eventual runners-up Sporting.
Head coach Dick Advocaat is no stranger to success at this level of competition, having led Zenit St. Petersburg on a successful run to the UEFA Cup title in the 2008.
Advocaat will have little time to prepare his troops for the coming task. They will host Benfica in the first leg on April 3, then travel to Lisbon for the return one week later.