DAVID SMITH - Friday, March 14, 2014
Aron Johannsson's lucky roll assured AZ's narrow home win over Anzi while Brad Friedel watched as Tottenham's Europa League run likely suffered its death blow.
AZ Alkmaar 1 - 0 Anzhi Makhachkala
Aron Johannsson's spot of luck helped AZ take a thin first-leg lead over former Russian niveau-riche club Anzi Makhachkala.
The only other competitive meeting between the two teams occurred in the final qualifying round of this competition in August 2012, where the Russians spanked their Dutch counterparts by a aggregate 5-0 scoreline.
Just over 18 months later, a drastic change in fortunes has seen the would-be Dagestani superclub shed all of its high priced stars, putting the two teams on far more even terms from the outset.
AZ suffered an early blow when Steven Berghuis had to be replaced by Johann Berg Gudmundsson 23 minutes into the game, however a mistake by the Russians shortly thereafter nevertheless gave the hosts the edge.
In the 29th minute, Anzhi defender Ali Gadzhibekov errantly handled a corner by the substituted Gudmundsson, sending the American to the line.
Johannsson's low drive to the right of center was correctly read by Mihail Kerzhakov, however the keeper's block merely popped the ball into the air with a heavy backspin, causing it to roll over the line for the 1-0 AZ lead immediately upon making contact with the ground.
The Russians tested AZ on multiple occasions during the final hour of the game, often calling Esteban Alvarado into action, however the hosts held on for the first-leg advantage.
The two teams will meet again on Thursday in the return leg in Makhachkala, with AZ needing only a draw to break through to the final eight of the competition.
Meanwhile, they will visit Twente on Sunday as their difficult Eredivisie campaign enters its final weeks.
Brad Friedel watched from the bench as Tottenham's 3-1 home loss to Benfica likely assured that they will make a round of 16 exit from the competition.