DAVID SMITH - Monday, May 7, 2012
Jozy Altidore shook off a midweek back injury to earn the start for AZ, setting up the lone goal of the game as they secured qualification to the Europa League in their final game of the season.
The American played the first 66 minutes of the game before being subbed out in favor of Charlison Benschop, however his assist in the first half was enough to lead the team to a top-four finish.
In the 13th minute, striker Brett Holman, who was playing his last game with the team before heading off to Aston Villa in a summer transfer, nearly put AZ in the lead when he launched a 15-yard shot on the break that flew just barely wide right.
AZ defender Niklas Moisander was even closer in the 23rd as what looked to be an attempted cross bounced off the crossbar, but the team was rewarded for their efforts three minutes later.
Altidore received the ball from Simon Poulsen in the left side of the area, and slid a pass to the middle towards Erik Falkenburg. Groningen defender Tim Sparv fell over as the ball rolled lightly past him, and Falkenburg took advantage of the freebie with a cool finish to the lower left corner.
Moments before the half, Holman nearly added another with a rocket of a volley that was inches over the crossbar, although the truly frustrating moment came in the 63rd when Falkenburg stole the ball at midfield, advanced towards goal and aimed a short pass at Altidore who had snuck unmarked into the right side of the area.
The American unfortunately bumbled his first touch, allowing keeper Luciano just long enough to dive at the ball and knock it to safety.
The hosts were almost made to regret their wastefulness with 19 minutes left, as Groningen's Uruguayan striker David Texeira had a shot bounce first off the crossbar, then fall back to him as he lay sprawled on the ground, giving him the chance to try a follow-up that was headed off the line by Moisander.
AZ tightened down and kept their cool in the final minutes, with the ending whistle finally confirming a winning cap to their season.
Combined with Sunday's loss by Heerenveen in their game against runners-up Feyenoord, AZ finish the season in fourth place, which places them directly into the play-off round of Europa League qualification to take place in late-August.
Altidore finishes the season with a total of 19 goals and four assists through a total of 52 games in Eredivisie, Cup and Europa League play.