Eredivisie: Who Will Win the Europa League Play-Offs?

Liam NewmanContributor IMay 5, 2014

ZWOLLE, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 13:  Heerenveen Manager / Head Coach, Marco van Basten looks on prior to the Eredivisie match between PEC Zwolle and SC Heerenveen held at IJsseldelta Stadion on December 13, 2013 in Zwolle, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The Eredivisie's regular season may have ended on Sunday, but the domestic action in Holland is far from over.

For Heerenveen, Vitesse, Groningen and AZ, just 270 minutes stand in the way of European qualification. However, only one of those four worthy clubs can cement their Europa League spot—who will it be?

Fifth-placed Heerenveen will face eight-placed AZ in one sem-final, while Vitesse will meet Groningen. Expect entertainment galore.



ZWOLLE, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 13:  Alfred Finnbogason of Heerenveen celebrates scoring the second goal of the game during the Eredivisie match between PEC Zwolle and SC Heerenveen held at IJsseldelta Stadion on December 13, 2013 in Zwolle, Netherlands.
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De Superfriezen will be many people's favourites to win the play-offs, and it is hard to argue against their case—after all, they are the highest-ranked team in the competition.

Even though the regular season standings don't really count for much, Heerenveen will be confident as they head into this mini tournament. The club enter the play-offs on the back of four straight victories, including an impressive 3-0 win over PSV, and they won't fear the opposition at all.

However, it will be a strange situation for head coach Marco van Basten. As we reported last month, the Dutch legend has already confirmed his summer departure to AZ—which will undoubtedly create a slightly awkward atmosphere throughout that semi-final encounter.

Nevertheless, van Basten will still want to do a professional job; providing Heerenveen with European football would be the perfect parting gift.

Only Feyenoord scored more goals than Heerenveen this season, while Alfred Finnbogason ended the campaign as Eredivisie's leading scorer (via Soccerway). Van Basten's men have a great chance of success.



ALKMAAR, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 27:  Fernando Lewis of AZ celebrates after the final whistle 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 b
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AZ may be out of form, but they do boast some great experience, and the Alkmaar club will still believe European qualification is well within their reach.

Should Dick Advocaat lead the team to success in his final moments as AZ boss, it would be the third year running that the club has qualified for the Europa League. They qualified automatically in 2012 by coming fourth in Eredivisie before securing qualification last season thanks to their KNVB Cup success.

AZ enjoyed an extended run in this year's Europa League before losing to Benfica at the quarter-final stage. Along with reaching the KNVB Cup semi-final, that European adventure certainly took its toll on Advocaat's relatively small squad, but they'll still have faith in their ability here.

Striker Aron Johannsson will be a constant threat for Alkmaar and will be determined to give his World Cup hopes one final boost with a successful play-off run. If AZ can install a first-leg advantage at the AFAS on Wednesday, they'll really fancy their chances of making it a hat-trick of European qualifications.

Their main concern, though, will be an awful away record. The Alkmaar club won just three games on the road this season.



Entering the play-offs on the back of six straight wins makes the Green-White Army Eredivisie's in-form side. However, they'll still face an uphill battle for European qualification.

Groningen face a difficult semi-final with Vitesse, and you can't help but feel that Erwin van der Looi's men are due for a bad result. In truth, Groningen have arguably overachieved simply by qualifying for the play-offs.

Even with their recent great form, Groningen have the joint worst goal difference of these four teams and additionally hold the title of having the worst defence of all those involved.

Groningen are placing a lot of responsibility on the young shoulders of 17-year-old Richairo Zivkovic. The youngster has scored in five of his last seven appearances, though, and he could be the man to fire them to Europehowever, as per Gerrit van Leeuwen of Sky Sports, he will be joining Ajax this summer.

It may be too much too soon for Zivkovic and Groningen.



BREDA, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 08:  Christian Atsu of Vitesse runs for the ball during the Eredivisie match between NAC Breda and Vitesse at the Rat Verlegh Stadion on March 8, 2014 in Breda, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The Arnhem club's demise is one that is particularly hard to attribute, as it wasn't that long ago that they were genuinely fighting for the title.

Last month, as per BBC Sport, their link with Chelsea was investigated by the Dutch FA. Some sources have claimed that Vitesse have been told not to qualify for the Champions League by the English club, as it would break UEFA regulations—whether that is true or not is hard to tell, but either way the Arnhem club certainly have a good chance here.

The contingent of Chelsea youngsters cannot be overlooked, and these play-offs could provide a crucial part of their respective individual development within the game. Christian Atsu, who was named the club's player of the year and has already expressed is interest in returning to Arnhem next year, could be pivotal to Vitesse's success.

Vitesse may enter this year's play-offs in the worst form of all four teams, but they will start on a level playing field on Wednesday. Peter Bosz's men will be optimistic.

Prediction: Vitesse to qualify.

Who do you think will qualify for the Europa League? Post your predictions below.