A big day of Europa League qualification action on Thursday and this set between Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar and FK Mariupol out of the Ukrainian Premier League. Mariupol finished sixth on the Ukrainian League table last year with a record of 8-6-8 and are 1-1-1 after three matches this season. AZ Alkmaar finished 4th in the Eredivisie last year with a record of 17-7-10. They’re 2-0 so far this year and tied with Utrecht atop the league table.
By virtue of a 0-0 draw in the first leg of this set the aggregate is completely up for grabs as the two teams rematch at Cars Jeans Stadion in Den Haag. AZ took care of Swedish Allsvenskan side BK Hacken in their first qualification round winning 3-0 on the aggregate. That matchup set up much the same way this one has with the two teams playing to a scoreless draw in the first leg before AZ took the second leg by a 3-0 margin. This is Mariupol’s first Europa Qualifying matchup this year. AZ has looked very good defensively this year both in league play and in Europe. They’ve yet to concede a goal in three Europa League qualification matches and they won their first two Eredivisie matches of the season by a combined margin of 6-0.
The first leg was a classic good news/bad news scenario for Mariupol. They obviously would have liked a better result than a draw on their home field but the fact they kept a clean sheet puts them into a position where they could greatly improve their position with an away goal. A 1-1 draw, for example, would see them advance. They will play this game without one of their best offensive players as Ruslan Fomin is expected to miss. Worth noting that Mariupol has been very inconsistent in the Ukrainian League this year where they’re 1-1-1 allowing and scoring 3 goals each.
Deja vu all over again? Why not. AZ won their first Europa Qualification round after a 3-0 outburst following a scoreless draw and that match was on the road. They’ll be the home team for this fixture (though it won’t be played on their usual home pitch at AFAS Stadion due to a roof collapse last weekend) and knowing the situation and importance of not conceding an ‘away goal’ to their opponent should look to extend a margin.