In an extraordinary finish, goalkeeper Sinan Bolat headed an unlikely equaliser deep into added time to take R. Standard de Liège into the UEFA Europa League at the expense of AZ Alkmaar.
With the visitors leading from the 42nd minute thanks to Jeremain Lens' close-range finish, it seemed Standard – who started the match dreaming of a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout phase – would be heading out of European competition altogether. However, in what was virtually the final action of the match, Bolat joined the attack for a free-kick and duly prolonged the Belgian champions' European season in dramatic fashion, meeting Benjamin Nicaise's inswinging delivery with a powerful header to push AZ back down into fourth place.
Victory may have been imperative for both sides but it was AZ who began the brighter, moving between their hosts' lines with some success until a Nicaise free-kick shifted the point of pressure. Making his first start in the competition, the Standard midfielder forced Sergio Romero to parry low to his right from 20 metres, and after the locals responded with appreciation, it was Milan Jovanović who took over as their chief source of hope. Having had one shot deflected narrowly over, the Serbian international left two defenders in his wake as he charged through on goal only to be denied by an immaculate sliding challenge from Héctor Moreno.
Jovanović then took over free-kick duties, striking the top of the crossbar close to the half-hour, before AZ midfielder Brett Holman imposed himself on proceedings with his own spell in the spotlight. He first called on Bolat to make an excellent sprawling save from distance and then rounded off a sprightly Lens break with a lobbed effort that just missed the target. It was from another pacy counterattack that the visitors went ahead too, Holman freeing Sebastien Pocognoli on the left and Lens turning in the left-back's low centre.
Despite the significance of that blow, László Bölöni's charges nonetheless rallied before the interval and only the fingertips of Romero prevented Igor De Camargo levelling with an audacious overhead kick. Both goalkeepers had made telling contributions in the opening period and it was Bolat who made the first significant stop after the interval, turning over a Mounir El Hamdaoui volley as AZ threatened to double their advantage. At the other end, Romero was spared from replicating that effort as De Camargo headed off target.
Indeed, Bolat continued to be the busier of the two custodians and bizarrely saved with his face when he misjudged a long-range El Hamdaoui effort. Standard needed just one goal to ensure their season maintained more than a domestic scope, but with Romero clawing out a Wilfried Dalmat effort and the Frenchman then spooning over, their prospects were becoming increasingly bleak. Nevertheless, with time ebbing away Bolat seized upon the very last opening and, in doing so, emulated the goalscoring feat of FC Bayern München goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt 24 hours previously.