Pavlidis and Kerkez give AZ fine victory at Lazio
AZ showed that the number three in the premier league is no less than the number three in Serie A. In Rome, AZ beat Italian Lazio 2-1, making it enough of a draw in the return of these eighth finals in the Conference League.
Fighting for a spot in the quarter-finals, but also for a second Dutch ticket to the 2024/25 Champions League, AZ fought back from an early 1-0 deficit, thanks to goals by Vangelis Pavlidis and Milos Kerkez.
Watch the reaction of standout player Tijjani Reijnders here:
A fine victory for Pascal Jansen’s team, which had to do it without injured defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Sam Beukema, among others. Midfielders Dani de Wit and Riechedly Bazoer were also still unavailable. Lazio had not conceded a goal in the previous five games.
Typical AZ game
That “fighting” was done with the typical AZ game, of putting pressure early, with neat positional play and sometimes lightning-fast combinations. But when the Romans had the ball, a team that also likes to play soccer, coach Maurizio Sarri expects no less, AZ was sometimes pushed back considerably.
After just one minute, it was almost hit, when Sergej Milinković-Savić poked the ball just wide after a quick dribble by left-winger Mattia Zaccagni. Or two minutes later, when Kerkez tapped the ball just wide of his own goal in the crowded own sixteen.
After that, AZ only seemed awake and put the Romans under more and more pressure, often with the strongly playing Tijjani Reijnders. But as soon as the Alkmaar players intercepted the ball, the passes were inaccurate and the speed of action often proved too slow.
Like the moment after just under 20 minutes, when Jordy Clasie, back in the starting lineup after his suspension last weekend against Vitesse, wasted the ball in midfield. Lazio again quickly reached the flank from Zaccagni, who swooped past his man-marker and found the cleverly stepped back Pedro (1-0).
The third Roman chance did hit the mark, but AZ did not let it fool them. Bravely, the Alkmaarders played on. AZ had the ball a little more often before halftime. To the displeasure of Sarri, who at first looked on without a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and reading glasses nonchalantly placed on his eyebrows, but as the first half progressed, started looking more and more sullen and waving his arms.
Still, AZ did not get its first big chance until after half an hour. Sven Mijnans volleyed and via a Roman leg the ball flew toward the corner, but goalkeeper Luis Maximiano tapped the ball onto the post.
On the stroke of half-time, AZ still got their well-deserved equalizer. And a fine one at that. Reijnders tipped the ball to Karlsson, who found Pavlidis at the first post with a tight cross, where the Greek striker hit the ball with his outside foot. The fact that Milikonivc-Savic hit the crossbar a minute later showed that Romans were ready for action after halftime.
They did, but Lazio, who were missing top striker Ciro Immobile due to injury, did not get through the AZ defense after halftime, except for the occasional big scrimmage. At the back of AZ, 18-year-old Wouter Goes and 19-year-old Kerkez made a strong impression.
The lead came after good pressure from Clasie, after an hour of play. He captured the ball in midfield and found Kerkez, who sent Jesper Karlsson away on the left. Kerkez crossed himself and slid the winning shot in under the keeper.
Lazio kept pressing and on a few occasions cut through the Alkmaar defense nicely. A shot by Felipe Anderson flew wide and his rebound after a grab by AZ goalkeeper Matt Ryan flew high over. The Romans were not much more dangerous than a couple of long-distance shots and some dangerously incoming crosses. And that was to AZ’s credit.