The Eredivisie’s last remaining hope of continental glory ended on Thursday night as AZ Alkmaar were knocked out of the Europa League with a quarter-final defeat to Benfica.
Dick Advocaat’s men were already trailing the Portuguese league leaders after last week’s 1-0 loss at the AFAS Stadion. Their chances of overturning that deficit against the 2012/13 losing finalists were always going to be slim, and it turned out to be a step too far for the Dutch side.
On the night, it was a double from striker Rodrigo that gave Benfica a 2-0 victory at the Stadio da Luz, adding to Eduardo Silvio’s first-leg winner to complete a comfortable 3-0 aggregate scoreline. In truth, the Dutch side rarely threatened the Portuguese side in either leg and were well and truly outclassed by their superior opponents.
Despite their exit, AZ can look back on this year’s adventure with fond memories and will take pride from their ride to the last eight.
The highlight of their journey undoubtedly came in the last round, as they booked their place in the quarter-final by exacting revenge on Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala —who had beaten them 6-0 over two legs in last year’s competition.
Who will lift the Europa League trophy?
AZ had been flying the Dutch flag alone after Eredivisie champions Ajax were humiliated 6-1 on aggregate by Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg in the round of 32; no other club from Holland had progressed beyond the group stage of either European competition.
The elimination completes a disappointing fortnight for AZ, who also lost their KNVB Cup semi-final to Ajax on March 27. Advocaat’s men must now dust themselves off ahead of Sunday’s league meeting with 17th-placed NEC, as they aim to cement their place in the end-of-season Eredivisie play-offs.
Meanwhile, Benfica progress through to Friday’s semi-final draw. The Portuguese giants will be looking to erase the harrowing memories of last year’s final defeat by going one better this term.
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