DAVID SMITH - Monday, May 6, 2013
Jozy Altidore and AZ continued their hot streak, racking up a big shut-out win over Zwolle as a final warm-up before next week's cup final.
AZ Alkmaar 4 - 0 PEC Zwolle
In their penultimate game of the regular season campaign, a win over Zwolle brought Jozy Altidore and AZ to within reach the Europa League qualification playoff.
AZ's recent turnaround had taken them well clear of their earlier relegation danger. Even though their timely run to Thursday's upcoming Dutch Cup final has almost assuredly landed them in Europe next season, they came into their final home game against struggling Zwolle looking to sharpen their claws one last time before trying to take home silverware.
Following a lifeless display by both teams during the early going, AZ sprang to life to take a 20th-minute lead. A corner from Adam Maher was headed on by Etienne Reijnen towards Viktor Elm, who easily put away his own header past keeper Diederik Boer for 1-0.
They doubled their advantage six minutes before the half, when Roy Beerens controlled a long throw-in from Giliano Wijnaldum, and found space to launch a shot that flew in just under the crossbar.
Minutes after earning a yellow card, Altidore was subbed out in favor of Aron Johannsson at the hour, and the Icelandic-American forward immediately made his presence known.
Barely two minutes after entering the field, Johannsson stormed in from the left side and darted around Boer before easily putting away his shot into the open net.
Then Maher added one more to AZ's scoresheet for good measure, sliding in to poke in a set-up from Markus Henriksen in the 77th minute and the final touch on the 4-0 victory.
A win over relegated Wilhelm II in their season finale next Sunday could very well put AZ into the four-team playoff for the league's final Europa League berth. However, they are already all but guaranteed a qualification spot through the Dutch Cup regardless of the outcome of Thursday's final against PSV Eindhoven.
Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond Sport were inactive for the final weekend of the Eerste Divisie regular season, as their scheduled opponent SC Veendam filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. They will enter the playoffs for promotion to the top-flight, with a home-and-away series against Sparta Rotterdam taking place on May 16 and 19.