• Sunday, 19 April 2009

    AZ champions despite defeat: Eredivisie reviews

    Heracles 4-0 NAC
    NEC 1-1 Roda
    De Graafschap 0-1 Groningen
    Feyenoord 1-0 Twente
    AZ 1-2 Vitesse
    Utrecht 2-1 Heerenveen
    Willem II 3-3 Den Haag
    Volendam 3-0 Sparta
    PSV 6-2 Ajax

    AZ finally get over the line to seal the Eredivisie title, their second, despite a defeat on Saturday as their nearest (though not that near) rivals also lost. Had AZ won, it would have been completely irrelevant what Twente and Ajax did and when Mounir El Hamdaoui nonchalantly slid the ball under Eloy Room on the quarter hour, it all looked to be going to plan. Ricky van Wolfswinkel wasn't in on the script meeting and equalised after half an hour and, six minutes from time, AZ failed to clear a corner and Alex Buttner volleyed in from twenty yards to win it for Vitesse.

    And so AZ would have to wait to see how the others got on before the champagne could be uncorked. Twente were their own worst enemies in Rotterdam, Douglas Franco sent off in giving away the decisive penalty, expertly converted by Roy Makaay, and Chiek Tioté followed suit five minutes from the end. And there was still time for Gio van Bronckhorst to see red as well as Feyenoord closed out a win. Ajax were involved in the final game of the weekend in Eindhoven and were ripped apart by a rampant PSV. The defence backed off Edison Mendez on 22 minutes, inviting the shot. He accepted the invite and blasted home from 25 yards. Ibrahim Afellay got the second with a superb finish after Nordin Amrabat shot was turned away by Kenneth Vermeer and Amrabat seized on the worst back-pass you could wish to see to make it three. Luis Suarez got one back before the break, but Jason Culina and a quite excellent free-kick from Balazs Dzsudzsak reasserted PSV's dominance. Miralem Sulejmani got a consolation, but Otman Bakaal ensured PSV had the last word. The fight now is for second and Champions League football next season with Ajax and Twente separated by a point.

    PSV's win moves them above Heerenveen in goal difference into the second automatic spot for the Europa League following that win and Heerenveen's surprise loss at Utrecht. Paulo Henrique put them ahead after just three minutes, but the lead lasted just four minutes when Michael Silberbauer equalised. Two minutes from time, Darryl Janmaat gave away a penalty which earned him a red card and Gregoor van Dijk converted it to win the game and keep Utrecht's hopes of European football alive.

    Down at the bottom, the automatic relegation spot changed hands again as De Graafschap were beaten and Volendam won well against Sparta. That result plunges Sparta back into trouble as Rowin van Zaanen, Paul de Lange and Gerson Sheotahul got the goals while Yuri Rose was sent off for Sparta. De Graafschap went down to a first-half Markus Berg penalty at home to Groningen and they now assume last place. Indeed, Volendam go above Roda as well as they were held 1-1 by NEC in Nijmegen. Sekou Cissé put them ahead, but Bas Sibum got a deserved equaliser for the home side. Den Haag looked to have pulled themselves away when they ran into a 3-0 lead early in the second half of their game at Tilburg. Karim Soltani (twice) and Richard Knopper got the goals, but Willem II hit three in the space of six minutes to square it up, Mohamed Messoudi, Frank Demouge and George Murad all scoring between 71 and 77 minutes. Four set pieces did the damage for Heracles on Friday night as they dented Breda's hopes of European football. Three free-kicks and a penalty resulted in four goals in the first half to secure an invaluable win.

    So many congratulations to AZ. To have lost just three games in 31 - and going on a 28-game unbeaten run in between times - is a tremendous record. They've now got a three-game victory parade to enjoy. They've been the best side all season long and they've learned from last year when they were in a similarly dominant position and screwed it up, losing out to PSV on the final day. No such worries this time as Louis van Gaal has turned them into a resolute outfit. They may struggle in Europe next season, but that's an issue to worry about later.

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