Thursday March 15 2012
Di Natale not enough for Udinese

Antonio Di Natale’s brace was not enough, as Udinese go out of the Europa League despite a 2-1 win over AZ, who had a man sent off in the opening minute and missed a penalty.

The Friulani had to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit against the Dutch League leaders, so Di Natale and Antonio Floro Flores both made rare Europa League starts, though Dusan Basta, Mauricio Isla and Emmanuel Badu were injured and Gabriel Torje cup-tied.

In the opening 55 seconds Floro Flores burst from behind Nick Viergever on to a long ball and was hauled down in the box for an inevitable penalty. The referee took almost a full minute to consider his decision and strangely flashed the red card at Niklas Moisander, but was eventually told it was a case of mistaken identity.

Di Natale stepped up and confidently converted the penalty, immediately halving the deficit in this Round of 16 tie.

Another promising Floro Flores move from a ball over the top went nowhere due to his heavy first touch. However, there was also bad news moments later, as Mehdi Benatia pulled up with a groin strain, where he already had heavy strapping. Giovanni Pasquale came on, moving to a four-man defence.

Udinese were shredding the Dutch defence and substitute Pasquale created the second goal for Di Natale. Pasquale got down the left and chipped up his cross to the back post for the captain to volley in from point-blank range at a tight angle.

Rasmus Elm tried to curl in directly from the corner flag, but did not surprise Samir Handanovic. Floro Flores wasted a couple of chances when he perhaps should’ve passed.

AZ pulled one back with their first real chance of the game. It was a moment of magic from Erik Falkenburg, who gathered a Simon Poulsen cutback, dummied to commit Michele Pazienza in the box and smashed into the near top corner.

This meant Udinese now needed two goals to qualify, as only one would see them go out on away goals. Pablo Armero’s roll across to Floro Flores was crucially intercepted by a sliding tackle, while from that corner Di Natale curled inches wide.

Di Natale had a shot charged down inside the area mere seconds after the break, then Giampiero Pinzi fired wide when sliding on to a pass. Di Natale’s volley skimmed the side-netting, while a promising Armero counter-attack was interrupted by a poor Floro Flores pass.

AZ also went on the counter and earned a penalty when Maurizio Domizzi barged Brett Holman off the ball. Elm took the spot-kick duties, but incredibly ballooned over the bar to give Udinese a lifeline.

Diego Fabbrini came off the bench and immediately smashed a dangerous strike inches past the woodwork. A cross was flicked on by Di Natale, but the sliding attempt to get a tap-in at the back post just failed.

If anything, Handanovic needed a desperate double save to parry Altidore’s shot with his outstretched foot, then the follow-up from Adam Maher too.

Fabbrini pulled back from the by-line for Di Natale’s shot deflected out for a corner. Udinese were looking increasingly fatigued, as they have been in recent Serie A matches. Fabbrini created another chance by dribbling past two players to cross, but Floro Flores couldn’t quite make contact with his head and the Almen Abdi follow-up whistled wide.

Esteban controlled an Abdi snapshot at the second attempt, then Di Natale tried to turn in the box only to be crowded out, as AZ defended well under a late onslaught.

Udinese 2-1 AZ Alkmaar (2-3 on agg)

Scorers: Di Natale pen 3, 14 (U), Falkenburg 31 (A)

Udinese: Handanovic; Benatia (Pasquale 10), Domizzi, Ekstrand; Ferronetti (Fabbrini 66), Pinzi, Pazienza (Abdi 78), Asamoah, Armero; Floro Flores, Di Natale

AZ Alkmaar: Esteban; Marcellis, Moisander, Viergever, Poulsen; Maher, Falkenburg (Ortiz 82), Elm; Beerens (Klavan 10), Altidore, Holman (Gudmundsson 77)

Ref: Mazic (SRB)

Sent off: Viergever 2 (A)

Missed penalty: Elm 64 (A)

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