Sunday’s face off with AZ is perhaps the season’s most vital game in what increasingly looks like the race for second place, but the club’s thoughts are elsewhere going into the weekend. The untimely death of Alfred Schreuder’s six-year-old daughter has resulted in a reality check at De Kuip and with the squad scheduled to attend the funeral on Saturday, there must be a question mark about the team’s focus. ‘It will be in the players’ minds,’ admits Erwin Koeman.

‘We have had a terrible week, that goes for all of us,’ says the coach. ‘The atmosphere is down, which is logical. The young players that don’t have children are a little less involved, but I see that those that do have children are empathising with the situation. That goes for me too. We will go to the funeral, a family affair, as a group on Saturday. We  will attend the service. A number of us, including myself, will stay to offer our condolences in private after the funeral. We will not be focused in our own minds on Saturday. And I don’t think that’s so strange when you see such a small coffin. However difficult it may be, after Saturday we will have to try to find some closure and concentrate on the game. It’s part of life, however unfair it may be. It will be in the players’ minds. But maybe things will turn out different on Sunday and the players will get inspiration from it, owing to their happiness at being on the pitch.’

The game will be preceded by a minute’s silence, but as insensitive as it may seem to some, it is an important match for both clubs all the same. The always down-to-earth Feyenoord coach feels that way too. ‘In my opinion we have to go flat out for the win. That will be an advance payment on our tenancy of second place. And if we cannot win, we mustn’t lose at any price.’

There is a question mark over Pieter Collen’s place in the starting line-up, after the Belgian’s back forced him out of Friday training early. If Collen doesn’t make it, Serginho Greene is expected to revert to right back, with Patrick Paauwe returning to the team after two games out, one of them due to suspension. One thing that is certain is the inclusion in the squad of junior talent Jeffrey Altheer. The 19-year-old defender has already played several times for the reserves.

AZ have made good progress under Louis van Gaal, and while the team have not been showing the sparkling form that got tongues wagging earlier in the season, they have shown they can win games even when they don’t perform. For evidence see last week’s match at Willem II. The home side are fighting for Eredivisie survival as the season race towards its climax and when they got the game back to 1-1 AZ fans might have been worried that their side would buckle. But Van Gaal’s team did what his predecessor Co Adriaanse’s side perhaps weren’t able to achieve last season, grinding out a couple of goals to take all three points. It’s been a regular pattern in recent weeks, with wins against NEC and Heracles also achieved in similar fashion.

Feyenoord rolled AZ over at De Kuip on Boxing Day, with a 2-0 victory and coach Koeman will be hoping his side can do the double over their nearest challengers. Indeed, with an eleven points cushion over fourth-placed Ajax, AZ may have other priorities than the league. The Alkmaar outfit take on champions-elect PSV in the semi-final of the Gatorade Cup next week.

AZ – Feyenoord
Sunday 19 March 2006, 12:30 at the Alkmaarderhout stadium

AZ: Timmer; Steinsson, Mathijsen, Opdam, De Cler; Landzaat, Medunjanin, Schaars; Meerdink, Arveladze, Perez.
Feyenoord: Aerts; Collen (Greene), Vlaar, Bahia, Bosschaart; De Guzman, Greene (Paauwe), Hofs; Castelen, Kuyt, Kalou.

Referee: Van Egmond

26/12/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 2-0
3/4/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 4-2
11/2/2004 Feyenoord - AZ 0-3
15/12/2002 Feyenoord - AZ 6-1
10/3/2002 Feyenoord - AZ 4-1
31/10/2004 AZ - Feyenoord 4-1
14/9/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 2-2
15/2/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 1-4
20/10/2001 AZ - Feyenoord 1-3
4/2/2001 AZ - Feyenoord 0-3

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