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AZ Alkmaar's first taste of UEFA Champions League football will end in disappointment, but there was more than just despondency in the home dressing room after a goalless draw against Olympiacos FC saw any chance of a second-placed finish slip from their grasp.
"We're undefeated in three home matches, which is especially good considering we had to play Arsenal," said AZ defender Gill Swerts, "and we can still qualify for the Europe League if we win our next match in Liege, so there's still plenty to play for." The Belgian was slightly surprised that the visitors attacked as much as they did, especially in the first half, but felt this helped his side's cause. "It was better for us because we had more space. In particular it was good for Jeremain Lens, because he's fast and can turn more quickly than their defenders."
Lens himself rued his team's profligacy. "We could have won, we had enough chances, but we – including myself - just didn't take them," said the striker, who turned 22 on the day of the game and was a constant thorn in the defence of the Greek champions. "Luck wasn't with us this evening. I think if we'd managed just one goal then Olympiacos couldn't have equalised, but it wasn't to be."
The visitors were obviously very content with their first away point of this season's UEFA Champions League campaign. "We're not quite there yet, but we'll try to finish the job off against Arsenal at home," said Olympiacos defender Olof Mellberg. "It was very difficult for both teams out there today with the wind. Overall I felt we were solid and thought we defended well. We had chances in both halves, but it's a good point."
Praise for keeper
Team-mate Enzo Maresca praised the opponents. "It was not easy because they are a very good team. We tried to win, because we would have been through, but I think in the end the result was about right." He also acknowledged the debt his team had to their 38-year-old goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis. "Everybody knows him, not just as a player but as a person. It's very important to have a good keeper like him. To be honest, this year he is doing well in every game. Age is not a problem for him at all at the moment."
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