AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Standard Liege: Late Goal Steals Point For Belgians
The sky was dark in Holland tonight as reigning Eredivisie titleholders AZ Alkmaar played hosts to Belgian champions Standard Liege. A well watered pitch saw the ball zip around with swift slickness as referee Wolfgang Stark whistled for the visitors to kick things off.
Both sides enjoyed some early possession, as they fired the ball around the pitch in an attempt to feel each other out. Standard looked slightly more comfortable with the ball than their opponents, but the Dutchmen had no problems keeping things tight at the back.
AZ’s Moussa Dembele looked eager to get himself on the ball in the opening stages – the striker linking up well with Maarten Martens and Brett Holman – but much like their opposition, the visiting side remained solid in defence.
A beautiful cross from Milan Jovanovic saw the ball end up in the six-yard box, but the delivery would be in vain as no Standard players rushed to meet the cross. As the ball went back out to safety, Martens found space just outside the visitor’s box and let fly. A terrific palmed save from Sinan Bolat made sure the goalbound strike didn’t enter the net.
Dieumerci Mbokani, in an almost carbon copy of Martens’ previous shot from outside the box, struck with venom just after the 20 minute mark. But again, like his opposite number, Sergio Romero produced a delightful diving save to keep the match scoreless.
The teams continued to cancel each other out as the half progressed, each side taking turns at producing attempts at goal without any real sense of urgency. The game was by no means boring to watch, but the strikers would have to perk up if the deadlock was to be broken.
After a quiet period from Dembele, the 22-year-old popped up again to strike just wide, much to the appreciation of the AZ fans – who continued to make themselves heard throughout the first half.
A barrage of attempts from the hosts started with a free kick from Mounir El Hamdaoui being deflected wide for a corner. AZ hounded their opponents for the five minutes leading up to half-time, but the sides entered their respective dressing rooms at the break on level pegging.
Less than three minutes after the restart, Holman shrugged off his marker inside the box to thread through a ball for El Hamdaoui. The Moroccan turned and did well to finish from the tight angle that he found himself at, taking the score to 1-0 for AZ and prompting calls for offside from the travelling fans.
Wilfried Delmat had started the second half brightly for the Belgian side, but after the goal was scored, the Dutchmen fully took the reins of the game – El Hamdaoui getting more and more involved in the match.
Dembele could well have caused an already cautioned Mohamed Sarr to be sent off as he continued bomb down the left flank. Sarr, deputising for the injured Steven Defour, was a tad obvious in pulling Dembele’s shirt, but Wolfgang Stark saw fit to keep the defender on the pitch.
Midway through the half, Jovanovic went down on the edge of the box after a tackle from the Dutch defence. Contact was definitely made with the big Serb, but having milked it with theatrics, the ref thought that it was a dive and Jovanovic found himself in the book with a yellow card.
Jovanovic almost made up for his indiscretion 10 minutes later when a sublime link-up down the left flank with his fellow attackers almost resulted in a goal for Standard. However, some strong defending from the Dutch side made sure that AZ kept the lead.
Martens made way for midfield team-mate Simon Poulsen who almost made an instant impact for the hosts. The Dane cut down the middle, leaving a few defenders in his wake, but the final ball was lacking in quality.
Alkmaar continued to dominate in the second period, Holman and El Hamdaoui linking up well throughout – the attacking pair looking like they could walk the ball into the net every time they moved forward.
As the game entered the last 10 minutes, players began to look tired and the match became scrappy. It started to look like the choppy nature of the game would suit Standard – the Belgians looking like they might just snatch a goal in the dying stages.
As the game entered injury time, Standard did just that. Sinan Bolat punted the ball down the pitch into a crowded AZ box only to watch Moussa Traore latch onto his pass and lift the ball over Sergio Romero. The Belgians would be heading home with a point.