A last-gasp goal from Shota Arveladze helped AZ Alkmaar to a 2-1 home victory against AFC Ajax in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League qualifying play-off in the Netherlands.
Louis van Gaal's men took the lead in the second minute through Simon Cziommer at the DSB-Stadium only for Wesley Sneijder to equalise for visiting Ajax eleven minutes later. It looked liked the sides would have to settle for a draw ahead of next Sunday's return at the Amsterdam ArenA when Georgia striker Arveladze popped up to score his 15th league goal of the season at the death.
Both clubs were missing key men with home forward Moussa Dembélé out with a hamstring injury and Ajax midfielder Edgar Davids suspended. AZ had led the Eredivisie heading into the final day of the regular season only to be pipped to the post by defending champions PSV Eindhoven with Ajax sneaking into second place. AZ and Ajax then reached their play-off decider after disposing of FC Twente and SC Heerenveen respectively in similar two-legged encounters.
UEFA Cup trio
Meanwhile, FC Groningen will join both Twente and Heerenveen in next season's UEFA Cup after beating FC Utrecht 2-1 in the second leg of their play-off, for a 4-1 aggregate triumph. Groningen had actually finished eighth in the regular season but were able to profit from a strong end to the campaign. A fourth team will also enter the UEFA Cup on behalf of the Netherlands, namely the losers of the Ajax-Alkmaar tie.
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