Udinese were humbled in the Netherlands on Thursday night as AZ Alkmaar ran out deserved winners in their Europa League clash.
As promised by Francesco Guidolin, Antonio Di Natale started the Round of 16 first leg encounter in the Netherlands on the bench as he was replaced by Antonio Floro Flores.
From the previous Europa League match, Guidolin made three changes in all, with Giampiero Pinzi, Pablo Armero and Damiano Ferronetti coming into the team in place of the injured Almen Abdi, Diego Fabbrini and Dusan Basta, none of whom travelled for the match.
Within a few minutes of kick-off it was Udinese that had the first strike at goal, when a Pinzi corner found an unmarked Asamoah on the edge of AZ’s area, but for the Ghanaian to pull his effort just wide right of the post. Moments later only a tight offside call denied Floro Flores a one-on-one situation with the Dutch side’s ‘keeper, Esteban Alvarado.
At the other end, a bizarre moment saw Giovanni Pasquale and Maurizio Domizzi vent their frustration at the assistant referee when they felt the ball had gone out for a throw-in to Udinese, only for the linesman to rule otherwise and then for Pasquale to clear it out for an AZ throw-in.
Soon after that, the home side took the ascendancy. Rasmus Elm’s well-struck effort from long range forced Samir Handanovic to rebound his save, whilst a similarly vicious effort from a free-kick by the same player floored Armero, who was stood in the wall.
Maarten Martens and Brett Holman then caused anxiety in the Udinese penalty area when attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to get on to a teasing cross into the area. Within a minute, Elm had his third long-range effort, as a 35-yard daisy-cutter forced Handanovic to gather low to his left.
Holman then brought out another save from Handanovic with a stinger that the ‘keeper was fortunate to see his rebound from bounce over an advancing AZ forward. What immediately followed was a spell of anxious play from the Zebrette, from Asamoah’s unnecessary near-post defending of a corner that resulted in a second that Handanovic was at full stretch to palm away, to Pasquale’s wasteful pass at the other end on a counter-attack and Ferronetti’s concession of another corner when uncertain of his surroundings.
AZ were getting a lot of joy in the first half attacking down their left-hand side of the pitch, with two-on-one situations against Ferronetti being worked to the Dutch team’s advantage. Full-back Simon Poulsen was a particular threat. During this spell of pressure, Udinese’s ventures down the other end were broken by wasteful play again by Pasquale and then also Armero.
Udinese were fortunate to see a snapshot from Martens rebound off Danilo and away to safety, after Holman’s original good work to work a cross into the Italians’ box, which again had come from the left side of the pitch.
Against the run of play, Udinese almost took the lead when a free-kick was squared to Armero, who from 40 yards saw his shot take a deflection that forced Alvarado to tip the ball over for a corner. From that set-piece, a free header by Danilo then brought about a second strong save from the Costa Rican shot-stopper on the line, before AZ cleared.
A quieter start to the second half saw Udinese take a more solid grounding in proceedings.
Floro Flores was again penalised for a close offside call for what had appeared to be the first opportunity for either side after the break. The striker eventually did time a run to better effect, latching on to a Pinzi through ball into the area, only to see his tame near-post effort easily smothered by Alvarado.
Domizzi was booked close to the hour mark for taking his protests over a contentious corner decision for AZ too far.
Udinese were holding the ball far better and pressed AZ back. A long throw caused panic for AZ, before Pasquale’s half-volley flew just wide.
Against the run of play though, AZ took the lead, when Jozy Altidore’s burst down the right and low cross was deflected off Pasquale and into Martens’ path for a simple but quickly-taken header past Handanovic.
Asamoah swung an effort from the left side of the penalty area comfortably over the bar, before Ferronetti’s late slide at the opposite far post from an Armero cross had a similar end result a few minutes later.
It was some time before the next clear chance, which also fell to Ferronetti, but his free header from a free-kick was well wide.
Guidolin brought on Di Natale with 10 minutes to go, replacing Pasquale and slightly altering tactics as a result, but the striker had little impact in attack.
AZ doubled their lead in similar circumstances to the first goal, when substitute Falkenburg first released Altidore again down the right, before latching on to the low cross from the American to finish calmly past Handanovic.
Falkenburg’s snap-shot that was hit into the ground forced a great late save from Handanovic to deny the third goal for the Dutch. Altidore then wasted a free header from six yards out that could also have put the tie out of reach for the Udine side.
AZ 2-0 Udinese
Scorers: Martens 63 (A), Falkenburg 84 (A)
AZ: Esteban; Marcellis, Viergever, Moisander, Poulsen; Maher, Martens (Falkenburg78), Elm; Beerens (Gudmundsson 74), Altidore, Holman (Ortiz 86)
Unused subs: Heijblok, Reijnen, Klaven, Boymans
Udinese: Handanovic; Danilo, Domizzi, Benatia; Pasquale (Di Natale 79), Armero, Pinzi, Pazienza, Ferronetti; Asamoah, Floro Flores
Unused subs: Padelli, Neuton, Ekstrand, Battocchio, Bedin, Marsura
Ref: David FERNANDEZ (ESP)