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AZ Alkmaar v Dundalk: Louth club determined to prove they belong on the big stage

By Daniel McDonnell

This evening Dundalk start a fresh chapter in a country that already has a special place in their history.

The Louth club scored their first ever European win by knocking Dutch side Utrecht out of the Fairs Cup in 1968 and, 11 years later, they returned to Holland to settle their European Cup tie with Linfield on neutral territory when crowd trouble marred their meeting in Oriel Park.

When they last visited this neck of the woods for a 1987 Cup Winners Cup tie with Ajax, Frank Stapleton, Frank Rijkaard, Aron Winter and Danny Blind scored for the star-studded hosts.

Stephen Kenny's side have travelled a long road to reach the group stages of the Europa League. AZ Alkmaar are a serious outfit, an established European performer along with group rivals Zenit St. Petersburg and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Dundalk are the new kids on the block, the lowest-ranked side in the competition, yet Kenny has stressed that he wants this run to be about winning points.

He wants to break new ground. Shamrock Rovers reached this stage in 2011 under Michael O'Neill, but getting there was the mission. All six group games ended in defeat.

Skipper Stephen O'Donnell said: "It was a novelty with Rovers getting through. Everything after that was a bonus. We have more realistic ambitions of picking up points."

AZ manager John van den Brom insisted that he would not underestimate the low-profile visitors.

He said: "We have a lot of respect for them. They were almost in the Champions League. They had a good result away to Legia Warsaw and they had chances to win the game at home also."

Still, he asserted that the Eredivisie outfit are firm favourites to win and offered the view that Kenny would agree.

The Dundalk boss knows that their progression from humble beginnings is a quaint tale.

But he dislikes any query that can be construed as patronising.

He is sure they belong and that view is also articulated by the leading members of his dressing room.

O'Donnell added: "From the outside looking in, they might say Dundalk have no right to be there and they've no chance.

"But we know our potential and if we do play to our potential, we know how competitive we can be."

  • AZ v Dundalk, Europa League Group D: AFAS Stadion, Tonight, 6.00pm

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