AZ Alkmaar were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League after drawing 0-0 at home against an Olympiacos FC side who look on course to qualify for the first knockout round from Group H.
Although the home side's need was greater – nothing but a win would keep them in contention for second spot in the group – they failed to make their superior possession count. The stalemate moves Olympiacos on to seven points, three clear of R. Standard de Liège going into Matchday 6, when a point at home against section winners Arsenal FC will send Zico's team through with the Gunners irrespective of what happens in Belgium.
The game got off to a scrappy start as both sides took time to adapt to the extremely blustery conditions, and 13 minutes had gone when AZ captain Stijn Schaars drove the first half-chance from outside the box a metre wide. Nine minutes later, with Olympiacos seemingly having wrested control, the home side almost broke through. Brett Holman played a clever pass through from close to the halfway line to the lively Jeremain Lens who got a toe to the ball before Antonis Nikopolidis but could only watch it roll the wrong side of the post with the goalkeeper beaten.
AZ's No7 went closer minutes later, reacting sharply to fire the loose ball narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area, yet the visitors continued to push forward frequently and Kostas Mitroglou's shot was deflected just over by Gill Swerts. Jaouad Zairi had an even better opportunity soon after, his low shot cannoning off Sergio Romero's legs. Those efforts sandwiched a Lens lob which had Nikopolidis concerned at the other end.
Despite the absence of goals, it was an absorbing first half with both teams committed to attacking play. The second started in similar vein, Dembélé twice, Holman and David Mendes da Silva all having attempts on goal in quick succession. Pontus Wernbloom's deflected drive just past the hour mark was acrobatically tipped round by Nikopolidis as Ronald Koeman's side continued to search for the goal needed to keep them alive in the competition. Olympiacos were content to play deep, though an awkward cross by Giorgos Galitsios on 70 minutes after a counterattack was only gathered by Romero at the second attempt.
Chances continued to be of the half variety as the game drew to a close, Leonardo forcing a good block from Romero before Dudu connected perfectly from range without finding the target. Then, in added time, AZ had a glimmer of hope when the unmarked Wernbloom was picked out with a cross from the right, only to head over when well placed. The result means last season's Dutch champions travel to Liege in a fortnight knowing only a win will keep them in European competition beyond the new year.
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