Two second-half goals earned AZ Alkmaar the upper hand over Udinese Calcio in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.
Maarten Martens and Erik Falkenburg turned in right-wing crosses from Jozy Altidore after 63 and 84 minutes respectively. Udinese will have to improve upon their record of nine goals in as many games in the competition since the start of the group phase – the lowest tally of any side to reach this stage – if they are to stand a chance of reaching the last eight.
Buoyed by their record European away win two weeks ago against PAOK FC, Udinese threatened through Kwadwo Asamoah's early shot as they set about inflicting AZ's first home defeat in 13 months. The Eredivisie leaders soon began to dictate proceedings, though, with Rasmus Elm calling Samir Handanovič into action twice and Brett Holman testing the goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area.
In Holman, Altidore and Roy Beerens, AZ had a triumvirate of attacking players whose direct approach was a constant cause for concern for Udinese in the opening 35 minutes. Time and again the ball was delivered into the visitors' box yet the Serie A outfit, showing all the resolve of a team who had conceded just once in their past five games, cleared their lines.
If the first half was largely defined by AZ's threat, then Udinese ended it on the front foot. Pablo Armero had a deflected effort tipped over by Esteban in a rare foray forward; from the ensuing corner the keeper blocked Danilo's header.
The second period began quietly, but burst to life when AZ broke the deadlock moments after Giovanni Pasquale had flashed a volley narrowly wide at the other end. Breaking incisively, Martens swept play wide to Altidore and continued his run to head in the United States international's deflected delivery.
Udinese responded with Damiano Ferronetti, at the far post, slicing Armero's cross high and wide, but the size of their second-leg task became that much greater when Falkenburg struck. Things could have been worse had Handanovič not tipped over another effort from the substitute and then denied Altidore a goal his display deserved.