AZ Alkmaar to Face Benfica in Europa League Quarter-Final

Liam NewmanContributor IMarch 21, 2014

ALKMAAR, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 27:  Nick Viergever #4 of AZ is congratulated by team mates after he scores his teams first goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between AZ Alkmaar and FC Slovan Liberec at the AZ Stadium on February 27, 2014 in Alkmaar, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Eredivisie's last remaining hope of European glory, Alkmaar Zaanstreek, will play Portuguese side Benfica in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final next month.

Dick Advocaat's side, who in the last 16 were already Holland's final participant (following Ajax's defeat to Red Bull Salzburg in the round of 32), will host the Portuguese league leaders on April 3 before heading to Lisbon for the return leg seven days later.

The quarter-final tie is a reward for seeing off Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala via an impressive 1-0 aggregate score. That victory served as retribution for the Dutch side, who had been embarrassed by the Russians just twelve months ago in the same competition.

After top scorer Aron Johannsson had given them a 1-0 advantage from the penalty spot during the first leg, AZ battled to a credible stalemate in Russia to book their place in the last eight. The clash with Benfica will form part of what will be a pivotal fortnight in the Alkmaar club's season.

In addition to their Europa League commitments, seventh-placed AZ will try to cement their place in the European qualification tournament by winning their key Eredivisie match against eighth-placed PEC Zwolle at home.

AZ then welcome Eredivisie champions Ajax to the AFAS Stadion on March 27 for their semi-final clash in the KNVB Cup, a trophy that the Cheese Farmers lifted last season. Advocaat's men are aiming to win the prize for the fifth time in the club's history.

Advocaat will know that the trip to Benfica, who eliminated Tottenham Hotspur in the last round, will not be easy. The Portuguese league leaders are unbeaten since November and will be regarded as the firm favourites. Still, AZ are used to defying the odds and could cause another huge upset here.

Alkmaar are unlikely to reach the May 14 final in Turin, but they've enjoyed one hell of a ride.


Europa League Quarter-Final Draw:

AZ Alkmaar v Benfica

Lyon v Juventus

Basel v Valencia

Porto v Sevilla