DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Jozy Altidore and AZ saw their Champions League qualification hopes take a nosedive in Rotterdam while Charles Kazlauskas returned from injury as Helmond tuned up for their upcoming playoff.
Feynoord Rotterdam 1 - 0 AZ Alkmaar
Jozy Altidore was in Alkmaar's starting lineup on Sunday afternoon for their big showdown against Feyenoord Rotterdam, but was unable to help the team avoid being shut out as they lost ground in the race for second place.
Although a shot at the Eredivisie title was practically an after-thought prior to kickoff, AZ were still just barely atop the melee of teams aiming for the division's second Champions League spot.
With Rotterdam being their closest competitor and trailing in the standings by merely goal differential, Sunday's game in Feijenoord Stadion was perhaps their toughest test to prove that they actually have the chops to compete on Europe's highest stage.
Despite an early push by AZ, the hosts spent much of the first half on the front foot, and after a 52nd minute strike by Ruben Schaken off the woodwork, it was no surprise that they too the lead fairly quickly after the break.
In the 54th minute, Ron Vlaar advanced the ball from the midfield stripe and hit Otman Bakkal with a splitting pass just outside the area. Bakkal's first touch took the ball just to his right, where he teed up a low, 22-yard shot that deflected off the right post and over the line for the 1-0 lead.
The goal instilled AZ with a sense of urgency, pushing the team to step up their forward push in hopes of taking any positive result from the game.
Brett Holman was closes to snatching a point from the abyss, however his stoppage-time blast was just barely over the crossbar, with the referee's final whistle confirming the victory to the hosts moments later.
AZ are now three points behind Feyenoord and two back from third-place PSV Eindhoven with two games left to play, and will need a bit of luck if they hope to claim second place and a spot in the Champions League qualification round.
They have two more games left to play - both practically being must-wins - first traveling to tenth-place NEC Nijmegen on Wednesday then returning home for their finale against FC Groningen.
Helmond Sport 2 - 1 FC Dordrecht
Charles Kazlauskas played the entire second half for Helmond, coming in for left-winger Pepijn Veerman on Friday night as they completed the regular season with a home win over FC Dordrecht.
Having come into the game on the heels of a rare two-game winless streak, Helmond grabbed control after seven minutes when Dordrecht keeper Nick van der Ploeg misjudged a high lob into the box by Jeffrey Altheer, allowing Zarko Grabovac to rise up and head it into the far side for the 1-0 advantage.
Kazlauskas entered the game after the half to end his short injury spell on the sidelines, although his effect on the game was not seen until close to the finish.
Dordrecht pulled even two minutes past the hour mark, after a foul by left back Aart Verberne set up a dangerous free kick opportunity for the visitors, which was headed in powerfully from close range by Josimar Lima.
While Helmond stood to lose or gain little from the result in terms of their position in the playoffs, they still managed to pull off the late winner, with Kazlauskas sending in a fine cross from the right wing for Emrullah Güvenç to put away in the 78th minute to secure the three points.
Helmond complete the season in fourth place, automatically placing them into the second round of the ten-team promotion playoffs. They will play a two-game series against FC Eindhoven beginning with the home leg on May 10, with the return leg three days later.