KNVB Beker final: AZ 2-1 PSV – Maher and Altidore lead the way
An Adam Maher inspired AZ beat Dutch giants PSV 2-1 on Thursday night to win the KNVB Beker for the first time in 31 years.
It was a clash between two sides whose season has been very disappointing for very different reasons. PSV’s season had gone from bright to dismal as they had gone from title contenders to having to settle for runner-up. AZ, on the other hand, have been remarkably underwhelming and inconsistent all season and have, at times, lingered dangerously close to the relegation playoff spots in the Eredivisie. Thursday night’s clash in De Kuip, Rotterdam, presented both side’s with the opportunity to brighten up their campaign.
It was 19-year-old Maher who stole the show in De Kuip with a dazzling performance throughout the 90 minutes. and it was the highly rated starlet who opened the scoring in spectacular fashion. The Netherlands international picked the ball up in the centre circle and charged forward unchallenged before skipping past Wilfred Bouma and tucking past Boy Waterman. At one point, it appeared that Maher had erred in not picking out Beerens on the left but we need never have doubted the decision making of one of Europe’s most talented young players.
In an amazing turn of events, AZ’s lead was doubled just two minutes later when Jozy Altidore took a fantastic Viktor Elm pass in his stride, cut onto his right foot to shake off the defenders and fired into the net. The American striker has been one of the rare shining lights in a difficult season but he again underlined his ability to score against the top sides. It was a fitting goal as he had scored in every previous round – becoming the first player to do that since Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Less than a quarter of an hour in and Gertjan Verbeek’s side were sitting pretty.
PSV looked to spark an instant comeback with Dries Mertens, Bouma and Jurgen Locadia all coming close moments after the second goal. However, AZ remained disciplined and resilient defensively, controlling the game with great confidence due to the comfortable lead.
The deficit was eventually halved, however, with bright prospect Jürgen Locadia getting his name on the scoresheet on the half hour mark. Mertens crossed to Bouma at the back post and the centre-back managed to nod it across the face of goal for the 19-year-old to divert home for his fifth goal in the tournament, and 11th in all competitions. Locadia had been a surprise pick ahead of Tim Matavz but he repaid Dick Advocaat’s faith. The sides went in 2-1 at the break.
The second period got off to a slow start, with AZ sitting deeper in their half, holding PSV at arm’s length in the early stages and embarking on the occasional attack.
As the game wore on, PSV’s intensity increased as they looked to save their season. Mertens felt he should have been awarded a penalty when he tumbled over in the box, but the referee was not convinced and replays showed that the Belgian winger had dived. Shortly after, a Mark van Bommel shot from distance was parried away by AZ goalkeeper Esteban.
For AZ, Maher was the main channel of creativity. The youngster put in a fantastic performance and linked up well with his surrounding teammates throughout the match. He continually got the better of PSV veteran Mark van Bommel, just like he did in the recent league match between the two sides. What’s more, he left Kevin Strootman completely in his shadow over the 90 minutes in a battle between two of Dutch football’s brightest midfielders.
The Alkmaar side were happy to hold onto the lead, but it was in no way a comfortable win. Former AZ striker Jeremain Lens saw an effort hurling towards goal, only to be denied by the post, and then Locadia was found in acres of space inside the box but he took too long to open up a shot and he was eventually shut down.
AZ had their chances, though. The clearest of which came in the 90th minute when Roy Beerens went on a lovely dribble towards goal and played it out wide to Steven Berghuis who crossed for substitute Aron Johannsson, but the Iceland U21 player’s shot flew over the bar.
Minutes later, the referee’s whistle brought an end to the match and AZ were able to celebrate their victory as KNVB Beker Champions. The club, who have been underwhelming throughout the campaign, having spent the vast majority of this term in the lower half of the league, can celebrate the silver lining to the rather dark cloud that has been their season.
Coach Verbeek insisted that his side were the deserved victors, telling reporters: “We beat Ajax in the semi-final and now we beat PSV. We deserved to win this cup.”
It’s hard to disagree with the AZ boss, who was later thrown into the team bath as they celebrated this fantastic win. Since winning the league title in 2009, it has been a tough period for the club. Ronald Koeman did not last long, Dick Advocaat was only there on a short-term basis and the club went through a period of financial turbulence when Dirk Scheringa’s DSB Bank collapsed. The club were run under the supervision of curators until last summer and this cup win represents the first trophy in the post-Scheringa era. AZ will enjoy the celebrations and they have every right to.