AZ Alkmaar have one foot in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 after overcoming FC Shakhter Karagandy 1-0 at AZ Stadion.
Dick Advocaat's outfit are sitting pretty at the top of Group L, level on eight points with PAOK FC, after a mistake from Stas Pokatilov decided the encounter, the unfortunate visiting goalkeeper misjudging a shot from Celso Ortiz in the 55th minute.
Goalmouth scrambles and aerial sieges provided an inhospitable start for both goalkeepers as play swung end-to-end in a breathless opening. Shakhter's Pokatilov was the only one required to make taxing saves, though, pawing over a swerving half-volley from Nick Viergever and holding Nemanja Gudelj's skidding shot on the turn inside the first 20 minutes.
Pokatilov's first-half work was not done there either, and he saved his best for last. Roy Beerens danced inside right-back Aleksandar Simčević and brought a sharp low stop out of the Shakhter No1 at his near post.
The start of the second period stood in stark contrast, not only for the considerably relaxed pace but also for the surprise error from first-half star Pokatilov. The 20-year-old appeared to have Ortiz's angled drive well covered at his near post, but the ball somehow flew through his hands and into the net.
After that, Beerens had a chip headed off the line and the floodgates seemed set to open, but, to Shakhter's credit, their resilience returned. Their stout rearguard restricted AZ to a handful of ambitious first-time efforts, and only Esteban's reflexes denied Maksat Bayzhanov a late equaliser. It was not to be, though, and Shakhter stand on the verge of elimination.
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