Standard Liege secured a Europa League place in the most dramatic of circumstances with goalkeeper Sinan Bolat heading an equaliser five minutes into stoppage time despite being outplayed for long periods by AZ.
It was immediately clear from the line ups of both sides that caution was not to be the modus operandi of the night’s proceedings. AZ had the better of the early stages looking much the brighter side and regularly exposed the frailties in the home defence. Standard were also giving it a good go and French midfielder Benjamin Nicaise went close with a free kick which forced Sergio Romero to scramble across goal and parry it behind in typically eccentric fashion.
AZ defended with real aggression and denied Standard with some magnificent last-ditch tackling. Les Rouches hit the woodwork for a second time when Milan Jovanovic stroked a free kick over the wall only to see it hit the bar with Romero well beaten. AZ took a vital lead three minutes before the break.
Brett Holman, who was coming more and more into the game, picked out Sebastien Pocognoli with a magnificent cross field ball and the full-back, born in Liege, crossed to Jeremain Lens who got across his marker Felipe at the near post and with Bolat already committed to the dive, the striker couldn’t miss.
AZ went into half-time ahead though not before Igor de Camargo hit the post with an overhead kick acrobatically tipped onto the post by Romero.
Belgian midfielder Maarten Martens replaced the injured Holman for the second half, which was inevitably less fluent. Mounir El Hamdaoui was the biggest danger, his volley and long-range shot were both thwarted by Bolat. Standard eventually had a chance when de Camargo’s cross just evaded Mbokani, who to be fair was put off by the rock solid Kew Jaliens, and shortly after Romero had to beat away a 30 yard effort from Wilfied Dalmat.
AZ decided to sit on the goal and the strategy did prove effective in blunting Standard’s effectiveness in attack. Standard threw everything at AZ, even the kitchen sink but the Dutch champions stood firm against the home side’s six strikers. When AZ did venture forward they rarely failed to test Bolat and their superior quality was evident throughout.
In one final move of desperation, Standard sent their goalkeeper forward and he headed home powerfully past Romero to leave AZ devastated and send the 30,000 home fans into raptures.
Gary Niblock, Goal.com