Monday, April 20, 2009

Mounir El Hamdaoui for AZ Alkmaar (v Vitesse Arnhem), 18 April 2009

A huge congratulations today to Louis van Gaal's AZ Alkmaar side who yesterday became the Dutch Eredivisie champions. They suffered a surprising 2-1 defeat to Vitesse on Saturday, but Ajaz's failure to ebat PSV yesterday (they were hammered 6-2) handed AZ only their second ever league title.

They are actually the only team outside the Netherlands' "big three" (PSV, Ajax, Feyenoord) to win the top flight title since 1964 (AZ themselves won it in 1981) although they have been there or thereabouts for three out of the last four seasons.

After an inauspicious start to the 2008/9 season (AZ lost their first two games against NAC Breda and ADO Den Haag) they went on a twenty-eight match unbeaten run and have clinched the title and Champions League football with three matches to spare.

Whilst AZ are worthy champions, their march to the title has been helped by poor seasons for all three of the traditional Dutch heavyweights. Feyenoord have had a dreadful season and currently languish in ninth position. PSV have also been extremely disappointing, as have Marco van Basten's Ajax side who face an uphill struggle to qualify for the Champions League next season as they will likely face Steve McLaren's FC Twente side who have spent the vast majority of the season in second place.

Following a spate of "first time/unusual" league winners in Europe this season - the German and French leagues are still up for grabs - there seems to have been something of a sea change in the balance of power in some of the European leagues which, for me, makes things a lot more interesting.

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