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By ESPN Staff

Feyenoord aim to be part of title race

AMSTERDAM, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Roy Makaay and Giovanni van Bronckhorst have returned home to try to help Feyenoord get back into the fight for the Dutch league title in their centenary season which kicks off this weekend.

Striker Makaay and defender Van Bronckhorst have strengthened the Rotterdam club, last crowned domestically in 1999 and a poor seventh last season 22 points behind champions PSV Eindhoven but now tipped as dark horses.

PSV will be seeking a fourth consecutive title after they pipped Ajax and AZ Alkmaar on the final day when AZ fell to a shock defeat away to Excelsior Rotterdam in a tight race that fans hope will be repeated with Feyenoord joining in.

The champions have lost captain Phillip Cocu, who is seeing out his career at Al-Jazeera in the United Arab Emirates, and the undisputed leader of their strong defence, Brazilian Alex, who moved to Chelsea.

However, coach Ronald Koeman has found reinforcements for every line.

Serbian international Danko Lazovic joined from Vitesse Arnhem, versatile Danish forward Kenneth Perez from Ajax and talented midfielders Ismail Aisatti and Otman Bakkal are both back from a loan period at Twente Enschede.

At AZ, Louis van Gaal has renewed the attack after they missed out on their first title since 1981.

Brazilian Ari came over from Swedish club Kalmar FF, where he scored 18 goals in 35 matches, while Italian youth international Graziano Pelle left Lecce to try his luck in the Dutch league.

Together with Belgian international Moussa Dembele, Ari and Pelle should give the team more creativity.

Ajax were considered favourites until this week when the transfer of attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder to Real Madrid for a club record €27 million reduced their expectations.

Sneijder was one of the highest scoring midfielders in Europe last season with 22 goals and will be hard to replace at short notice.

Ajax have signed wingers Kennedy Bakircioglu of Sweden and Uruguayan Luis Suarez.

But they have only the experienced Gabri, Edgar Davids, still sidelined with a broken shinbone, and Jaap Stam, in his final season, as possible leaders in their team though all lack the creativity of Sneijder.

Feyenoord persuaded coach Bert van Marwijk, who steered them to UEFA Cup victory in 2002, to return after two and a half years at Borussia Dortmund and he inspired several players to join him.

Van Bronckhorst was granted a free transfer by Barcelona and easy-scoring striker Makaay followed him from Bayern Munich, while Dutchmen Kevin Hofland and Tim de Cler were bought to renovate a defence that conceded 66 goals last season.

Among all these internationals and former internationals, 18-year-old Nuri Sahin is a virtual unknown.

The teenage Turkish international, who has played for two seasons in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund after his debut at 16, has followed Van Marwijk on loan and might become the sensation in the Rotterdam side's midfield.

The championship kicks off on Friday, with Heerenveen at home to Willem II Tilburg. AZ host promoted VVV Venlo on Saturday and PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord visit Heracles Almelo, Graafschap Doetinchem and Utrecht respectively on Sunday.