Alkmaar Zaanstreek, commonly known as AZ Alkmaar or simply AZ, is a Dutch club originating about 30 kilometres from Amsterdam. The club was founded in 1967 after the merger of Alkmaar '54 and FC Zaanstreek and initially went by the name AZ '67.
Between 1975 and 1982, AZ consistently finished in the top five of the Dutch highest league, developed an attacking style of play with technically gifted players. The first trophy came in 1978 in the form of the Dutch Cup. In 1981, AZ won the double and thus its first title, and also advanced to the final of the UEFA Cup in which it faced English side Ipswich Town. Another league title would be 28 years away.
After a third cup success in 1982, the club went through a period of decline, even spending several seasons in the second division. AZ returned to the first league in the 98-99 season and have remained there ever since. Especially under coach Co Adriaanse, they consolidated their position at the top of Dutch football. It did not lead to another title, but it did earn the coach a European semi-final against Sporting Lisbon and a transfer to Porto.
A last title in 2009
To succeed him, AZ called on Louis Van Gaal, ex-coach of Ajax and Barça, who finished second in 2006 and third in 2007. The 2006-07 season left a bitter taste with a lost cup final and a missed title on the final day of the league. The following season was disastrous and Van Gaal offered the club management his resignation, but they refused. A smart move, it later turned out, as AZ won the title in 2008-09, with Maarten Martens (formed at RSCA) and Moussa Dembélé.
The return to the top was short-lived, as the chairman's company - the club's main sponsor - went bankrupt at the end of that year. AZ was forced to sell its best players, but remained in the sub-top, winning a fourth cup in 2013, being on the podium several times (notably under John van den Brom, ex-RSCA) and close to the title in 2020. A season that was unfortunately aborted early by COVID as AZ battled Ajax for the title.
AZ IN THE CONFERENCE LEAGUE
Like RSCA, AZ had to pass through the preliminary rounds to reach the group stage of the Conference League. Neither Tuzla City (Bosnia), nor Dundee United (Scotland), nor Gil Vincente (Portugal) were able to cause any diffuclties. The group stage draw did not prove too daunting either. Against Apollon Limassol (Cyprus), FC Vaduz (Liechtenstein Cup winner, playing in the Swiss D2) and SK Dnipro-1 (Ukraine), AZ finished in first place in their group (with 15 points out of 18), losing only once during their long trip to Limassol (1-0).
Thanks to this first place, our future opponents avoided the play-off round in which RSCA faced the Bulgarian Ludogorets. They were then drawn against a less favourable team in the round of 16: Lazio. They managed to eliminated Lazio by winning both in Rome (1-2) and on their own ground (2-1). A rather remarkable double result against a team that is currently ranked second in Serie A, far behind Napoli, but also and above all ahead of the two big Milanese teams and their hereditary rivals AS Roma.
THE 2022-2023 SEASON FOR AZ
AZ Alkmaar are also doing well in the Eredivisie and are fourth, 13 points behind leaders Feyenoord and five behind Ajax and PSV, who complete the podium. There are still six matchdays to go in the Dutch league. However, AZ lost at home this weekend to Sparta Rotterdam (0-1), one of the closest chasers (6th), and thus remain stuck on a 1 in 9, given their previous duels against Heerenveen (8th, 1-1) and Twente (5th, 2-1).
AZ usually play in a 4-3-3. The match against Sporting will be the 45th of the season for the Dutch and the 49th for RSCA. AZ's top scorers are Greek Vangelis Pavlidis (19 goals), Dani de Wit (13 goals, but currently injured) and Scandinavians Jens Odgaard (11 goals) and Jesper Karlsson (10 goals). The best-known players for the Belgian public are undoubtedly goalkeeper Mathew Ryan (ex-Brugge), defender Zinho Vanheusden (ex-Standard, on loan from Inter and working on his return from injury) and captain Jordy Clasie (ex-Feyenoord and Brugge).
The AFAS Stadium is the current home ground of AZ Alkmaar. The stadium was built in 2006 as the DSB Stadium to replace the Alkmaarderhout, the old 9,000-seat stadium. In August 2019, part of the stadium's roof collapsed due to a heavy storm, fortunately without casualties. As a result, AZ could not play in its own stadium for some time. The entire roof was eventually removed and fans were able to return to their own stadium in December 2019. Work on a new enclosure began in June 2020 and the stadium was officially opened in September 2021.
As the building is attached to the main stand, the new roof over the main stand is supported by a huge truss. This has a length of 170 metres, weighs 600 tonnes and rises 40 metres above the pitch at its highest point. The new roof is four metres longer on all sides of the pitch. This makes it more comfortable for fans in rainy weather and there is much less wind in the stadium. Instead of corrugated sheets, the new roof is also straight along its entire length. This allowed some stands to be raised and six extra rows were added. This increased the stadium's maximum capacity to 19,478 seats.