Maher gives AZ edge over Anderlecht

AZ Alkmaar 1-0 RSC Anderlecht
Adam Maher prised the only goal from a tense contest as the visitors' perfect record in this season's competition was ended by the Dutch outfit.

Adam Maher (left) scored the only goal in Alkmaar
Adam Maher (left) scored the only goal in Alkmaar ©Getty Images

AZ Alkmaar earned a 1-0 advantage to take to Belgium for their UEFA Europa League round of 32 return against RSC Anderlecht thanks to Adam Maher's first-half effort.

The visitors arrived in the Netherlands as the only side to have won all six group games but they rarely looked like extending that sequence and were undone when Maher grabbed his third goal of their European campaign after 35 minutes.

Brett Holman would have been celebrating an early opener had he redirected Maarten Martens' cross effectively but that proved the only opportunity of a cagey first half-hour. The hosts would have remained confident of prising an opener before the interval – seven of their ten group stage goals arrived between the 16th and 45th minutes – and their belief was substantiated as they struck ten minutes before the interval when Maher convincingly dispatched Simon Poulsen's left-wing cross from close range.

A second could easily have followed before the break as Holman sliced over from the edge of the area while Charlison Benschop missed his kick from five metres after a powerful run and cut-back from Holman. Ariël Jacobs introduced Olivier Deschacht, on his 31st birthday, at half-time and the competition's leading scorer Matías Suárez just before the hour, but the attacking prowess that had seen Anderlecht rack up a group stage best 18 goals remained lacking.

Les Mauves et Blancs had to wait until the 83rd-minute to carve out a presentable chance and Guillaume Gillet would have levelled had his header from Dieudonné Mbokani's cross not picked out goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado. Gertjan Verbeek's men sensed a telling second goal was for the taking against an out-of-sorts away side but it proved evasive as Jozy Altidore rifled wide while Martens' fierce drive was repelled by Silvio Proto in the closing stages.