In a decisive game for the next European football season, AZ secured a place in the preliminary rounds of the Conference League thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over NEC in Nijmegen. The victory lifts coach Pascal Jansen’s team to fourth place in the rankings, a performance that guarantees an appearance in the European tournament.
Fight for third place
Thanks to this victory, the battle for third place and the associated chance for the play-offs of the Europa League is also still ongoing. AZ must win their next home game against PSV and hope for a defeat of Ajax, who will play against FC Twente, to raise their position.
The match in the Goffert Stadium took place without AZ supporters, a decision by the mayor of Nijmegen, who feared riots like those that occurred last week during AZ’s Conference League match against West Ham United. In protest against this decision, NEC supporters left their box empty for the first fifteen minutes. Despite the turbulence, AZ remained focused and found an opening in the NEC defense after half an hour of play. Jesper Karlsson, AZ’s Swedish attacker, scored the first goal with a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Although a second goal from Karlsson was ruled out by VAR for offside, AZ increased their lead to 2-0 after a superb partnership between Vangelis Pavlidis and Jordy Clasie, who skillfully lifted the ball over NEC goalkeeper Cillessen.
The second half saw a repeat of AZ’s dominant play, with Karlsson scoring once more on a pass from Pavlidis. NEC could do little to turn things around, with their only significant action being a vicious foul from Dirk Proper. Proper was initially penalized with a yellow card, but after a VAR intervention he received a deserved red card.
Despite a last-ditch effort by Pavlidis to further extend the scoreboard in stoppage time, his goal was disallowed for offside, leaving the final score at 3–0.