AZ´s European campaign continues

Published on 16 maart 12, 00:00
UDINE- AZ suffered a 2-1 defeat at Udinese on Thursday night, but a vital Erik Falkenburg goal earned Gert Jan Verbeek´s team a Europa League quarter-final spot, with a 3-2 win on aggregate. AZ played most of the match with ten men after Nick Viergever had been sent off in the 2nd minute.

AZ succeeded in holding off Anderlecht on 23 February and they repeated this feat on a day in spring in Udine. The hosts took the lead after two minutes. Viergever allegedly brought down Antonio Floro Flores. The defender was sent off and Di Natale duly converted from the spot: 1-0. Gertjan Verbeek was forced to change his game plan and brought on Ragnar Klavan for Roy Beerens.

Di Natale
And AZ´s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals suffered another severe blow when Di Natale was at the end of a flowing move after fifteen minutes, firing the ball into the roof of the net at the far post: 2-0.  AZ fought themselves back into he game and went in search of that vital away goal.

They were rewarded for their stamina in the 31st minute. Brett Holman found Simon Poulsen, who sent in an inviting cross from the left. Falkenburg controlled the ball well before unleashing a powerful left-foot shot into the top corner, leaving goalkeeper Handanovic with no chance. It was the midfielder’s fourth goal in as many matches.

After the restart, Udinese surged forward in a bid to give themselves the three goal cushion they needed to get through. The Eredivisie leaders defended stoutly and got a golden opportunity to deal Udinese a devastating blow. Brett Holman was brought down in the box but Rasmus Elm fired the resulting penalty high over the bar. Jozy Altidore and Adam Maher also got chances to put the game beyond reach but sent their efforts straight at Samir Handanovic, while Udinese´s hopes of scoring two goals gradually diminished.

Quarter finals
AZ withstood the late pressure to earn a place in the Europa League quarter finals. They face a crowded fixture list, with two European ties scheduled to take place on 29 March and 5 April,

Verbeek: ‘Deservedly reached the quarter finals’
“I was forced to make some tactical changes after Viergever had been shown a red card”, said Verbeek at the post-match conference. “To be honest I really didn’t think that was a penalty and Viergever shouldn’t have been sent off. But we started sloppily and were punished for that. We bravely fought back from two goals down and held out in the second half and deservedly reached the quarter finals”.

Udinese – AZ 2-1 (2-1)

Europa League, round of 16

Udinese line-up: Samir Handanovic; Mehdi Benatia (11. Giovanni Pasquale), Maurizio Domizzi, Lars Ekstrand; Damiano Ferronetti (66. Diego Fabbrini), Giampiero Pinzi, Michele Pazienza (78. Almen Abdi), Kwadwo Asamoah, Pablo Armero; Antonio Floro Flores, Antonio Di Natale.
AZ line-up: Esteban, Dirk Marcellis, Niklas Moisander, Nick Viergever, Simon Poulsen; Adam Maher, Rasmus Elm, Erik Falkenburg (83. Celso Ortiz); Roy Beerens (11. Ragnar Klavan), Jozy Altidore, Brett Holman (78. Johann Berg Gudmundsson).

Goals: 3. Di Natale (pen.) 1-0, 15. Di Natale 2-0, 31. Falkenburg 2-1.
64. Elm misses penalty.
Booked: Pasquale, Domizzi, Pazienza, Pinzi (Udinese), Altidore, Maher (AZ).
Sent off: 2. Viergever (AZ).
Referee: Milorad Mažic (Ser).
Attendance: 9,500

Photos: Ed van de Pol /