A late strike from Robin Nelisse gave AZ Alkmaar a crucial away first-leg victory in their UEFA Cup quarter-final tie against Villarreal CF, the Spanish side's first-ever home UEFA Cup defeat in their 12th match at El Madrigal.
After absorbing pressure for much of the second half, the striker gave the visitors a 2-1 lead in the 74th minute following a rare foray into the Villarreal half. Nelisse pushed Jan Kromkamp's near-post cross goalwards and although José Manuel Reina saved the initial effort, he could do nothing about the rebound. The goal restored Alkmaar's lead after they had opened the scoring through Denny Landzaat on eleven minutes although Juan Román Riquelme soon equalised.
Both coaches were forced to make defensive changes, with Villarreal's Manuel Luis Pellegrini bringing César Arzo into central defence while Kew Jaliens lined up in the Alkmaar rearguard and Michael Buskermolen replaced Tim de Cler in midfield.
But it was Luciano Figueroa, playing instead of the cup-tied Diego Forlán, who made the biggest impact in the opening stages for the sole surviving UEFA Intertoto Cup winners. He could have broken the deadlock after less than four minutes but, five metres out, directed Rodolfo Arruabarrena's cross wide.
Villarreal had begun brightly but were soon a goal behind when Landzaat struck from the edge of the box after Nelisse's lay-off for the first UEFA Cup goal Villarreal had ever conceded at home. The advantage lasted less than two minutes, however, before Riquelme scored an almost carbon-copy goal after a swift one-two with Lucho.
Alkmaar goalkeeper Henk Timmer was left flat-footed by the strike but was significantly more agile to keep out Riquelme's penalty on 27 minutes, saving at full stretch after Kromkamp had impeded Lucho. But it was a solitary blemish on an otherwise excellent first half by the penalty-taker, who posed a constant problem to the Alkmaar defence, teeing up a series of chances for his colleagues. Marcos Senna and José Mari almost profited.
Flurry of chances
The second half started with a flurry of chances as Lucho and Nelisse both went close before Riquelme blazed a gilt-edged opportunity over the bar after another one-two with Lucho. The miss typified the second half as Villarreal were constantly rebuffed by last-ditch defending and poor finishing.
Alkmaar offered little in return before Nelisse's late strike gave them a crucial advantage - not least as they have never lost a home European game.