‘AZ we meet in final’
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Lech Poznan takes on Italian Fiorentina in the Conference League quarterfinals on Thursday night (9 p.m.). All of Poland is watching. For the first time since Legia Warsaw in the 1995/1996 Champions League season, a Polish team is in the last eight of a European tournament.
The coach behind this success is John van den Brom. Last summer, the 56-year-old Dutchman signed with the champions of Poland as Maciej Skorza’s successor. Denny Landzaat came along as assistant. While the results in the Polish Ekstraklasa are disappointing with the current third place, Lech Poznan impressed in Europe.
“We had a difficult start, but after that things went well,” Van den Brom said. “We play nice soccer and the European successes make the season special. All of football-loving Poland talks about this and that you get to play a role in it as a coach is obviously great.”
After elimination by FK Qarabag in the first preliminary round of the Champions League, Lech Poznan recorded home victories over Austria Wien (4-1) and Villarreal CF (3-1) in the group stage of the Conference League, a victory over Norwegian FK Bodø/Glimt (0-0 away, 1-0 at home) in the playoffs, followed by a double win over Swedish Djurgårdens IF (2-0 at home, 3-0 away) in the eighth finals.
“That feels great, of course,” Van den Brom said. “For the club, but also very special for me as a coach.”
In Fiorentina, the Poles now meet the number nine of Serie A. Van den Brom: “A tough opponent. I’m curious, but I’m confident. At home in Europe we haven’t lost yet.”
‘Was actually hoping for Anderlecht or AZ’
With added interest, Van den Brom is also following another Conference League quarterfinal. His old clubs Anderlecht and AZ face each other in Brussels. From 2012 to 2014, Van den Brom was Anderlecht’s coach and became champion of Belgium in his first season. He then spent five years at AZ.
“I was actually hoping for Anderlecht or AZ as an opponent in the quarterfinals, but now I think it’s special that they play against each other,” Van den Brom said. “AZ is more of a whole and has better individual players. I have the idea that Anderlecht has brightened up a bit because of the European successes.”
“I watch all of AZ’s games,” Van den Brom continued. “I think it’s clever that AZ always manages to make it a nice unit, despite the many transfers the players make. From my time, only Pantelis Hatzidiakos is left. Anderlecht I follow a little less.”
FC Basel or OGC Nice
Since the draw for the remainder of the tournament has also already been made, Van den Brom knows that with a win over Fiorentina, Lech Poznan will not face AZ or Anderlecht in the semifinals either. FC Basel or OGC Nice will then be the opponent. “So we will meet AZ in the final,” Van den Brom said. “Always keep dreaming.”
In that case, Van den Brom equaled with Lech Poznan the performance of Poland’s Górnik Zabrze in the 1969/1970 season. That club then reached the final of the Europa Cup II, the European Cup for Cup winners. Manchester City was too strong 2-1 in that event. Polonia Bytom won the Intertoto Cup in 1965.