It seems like a great day to show some love to the gals and dudes stuck at nasty ol' work. Kickoff is just after the top of the hour, and today's presentation will be one of detail.
Your line-ups for this Europa League round-of-16 tie opener:
Esteban; Marcellis, Moisander, Viergever, Poulsen, Elm, Maher, Martens, Beerens, Altidore, Holman
Handanovic; Pasquale, Ferronetti, Danilo, Benatia, Domizzi, Pinzi, Pazienza, Asamoah, Floro Flores, Armero
That's right... Antonio Di Natale starts on the bench for Udinese. Looking elsewhere, Jermaine Jones and Schalke currently trail first leg hosts FC Twente 1-0 with 20 minutes to go and Steve Cherundolo is set to start at Standard Liège (which begins the same time as our game, so we'll also keep you posted on that).
I'll be back just before kickoff...
By the way, Twente closed out a 1-0 win over Jones' Schalke, profiting mightily from an early red card/penalty kick foul that from the replay looks to be a bunch of bull.
Floro Flores pegged back by a close - but correct - offside flag on a breakaway ball.
Altidore works a quick back-to-goal combo with Elm , who stings the keeper's hands from 20 meters.
First AZ danger free kick fired into the wall by Elm, winning their first corner.
After wall victim Asamoah has his noodle examined, AZ's corner kick comes to nothing thanks to a Holman foul.
The home side are being extremely cautious thus far.
Altidore is played into the area in the right channel, but the pass comes too late and it pushes him wider. His centering feed is dangerous, but nobody reads the deflection it takes.
Another Elm free kick is bounced straight to Udinese's Slovenia keeper... AZ should have done a loan deal for Donovan for this tie.
Altidore tries to dribble loose on his own, but is bodied and then called for a foul.
The Cheese Farmers (Kaasboeren in Dutch, by the way) are starting to settle in and take the front foot now.
After Beerens fails to corral a rebound from his stinger shot, Martens wins a corner, which becoms two. Neither cause trouble.
Altidore helps a rush forward and then Maher's cross for him at the end of the sequence is just too tall and cleared for another corner that comes to nothing.
Yet another AZ corner is taken short... and we all know what happens next. I cannot say that a single one of their corner serves has been dangerous, with most hit too long.
Poulsen has Altidore drooling at the back post, but cannot steer his left-wing cross far rnough to reach him and it's cleared.
Altidore with good work on extended AZ offensive possession, but eventually he cannot quite make it to Poulsen's speculative near-post cross and the keeper gobbles it up.
Developed as a winger, Poulsen is giving Danilo fits up the left side - but his crossing has yet to arrive at AFAS-Stadion.
Maher's left-wing cross is blocked, as is the resulting snap volley of the carom by Martens.
Peeking to Belgium, Lars Stindl put Hannover 96 up from the spot on 22 minutes - and then they leaked twice in the next eight to trail 2-1 at the half hour. While we're updating and all, let's mention that, earlier, a Gooch-less Sporting CP edged Manchester City 1-0 in their home leg.
Still owning the ball, AZ win another corner through Holman. This time, the serve is good and Handanovic has to punch from a crowd.
Alvarado does well to tip over a long Armero shot that skips off the head of Elm. From the resulting corner, he robs (I think) Danilo on a low header.
Altidore manages to get his head on a Martens cross while being "gently" arm-tied to the ground. The crowd grumbles there's no call, but it would have been excessive to give a penalty for that.
An Udinese corner kick falls apart from being too clever.
As added time starts, a Martens corner is knocked back for another, which also comes to nothing. Something needs to be done about all these wasted corner kick serves.
Game back on, I got distracted. You didn't miss anything good.
After absorbing some Udinese pressure, AZ break out well, only to have Beerens take too long to release Altidore and has his pass intercepted when he finally does. Huge mistake from Beerens as Jozy would have then led a 2-v-1.
Over in Belgium, Diouf has pulled Hannover 96 level at twos.
Alvarado scoops up a weak Floro Flores try from an angle.
Altidore and Maher work to lead Elm into the area, but it's toed away for a corner. The Martens serve is good this time, but Udinese deal with it.
Pasquale gets a tasty clearance to unload on, but fires wildly.
With AZ on the breakout, Altidore's cross from the right is deflected for Martens to nod home. 1-0 AZ!
A mistake at the back by Maher allows Asamoah to fire from a sharp angle, but he can't find the target.
Udinese put together a nice attack, but Floro Flores shovels the final cross over. That's an away bullet dodged.
FYI: Altidore has now either scored or assisted in four straight games for club and country, with three goals and two helpers in that span. In three of those four games, he took part in the first goal of the match.
Altidore grabs a long through pass toward the right corner and decides to set up possession. Eventually, his cheeky combo touch just misses slipping Martens into a good position with options at the top of the box.
Over in Belgium: With 10 minutes left, Hannover are still happily deadlocked at 2-2.
In quick succession, Gudmondsson and Falkenburg replace Beerens and Martens.
Di Natale is on, replacing the defender Pasquale - buckle up, AZ fans.
Altidore makes a nice touch-and-pivot under pressure to hold possession in attack, but moments later has a slip pass to the top of the area snagged away.
Altidore tackles to regain possession and then his pinpoint cross from the right is tipped through by a hustling defender - where Falkenburg gratefully slams home the AZ 2-0.
Altidore is mugged; shortly thereafter, Ortiz comes on for Holman.
Looking at the goal on replay, Holman just flat whiffed on that Altidore cross. That's why the defender had any shot at all.
A marvelous wing lob sends Poulsen running and his cross tees up Falkneburg, who forces the keeper to tip over the bouncing volley.
As three added minutes begin, sudden Udinese thuggishness continues to give Elm another free kick crack and Udinese's third yellow card to Danilo. Elm this misfires his restart over.
It's final in Belgium, a 2-2 draw that pleases Hannover 96 supporters.
Altidore nods his header downward from Elm's cross, but Handanovic foils him on the bounce.
A very good win for AZ and a showing from Altidore where one could not ask a whole lot more. I can also tell you that he has been awarded to assist on AZ's second now. Everyone, have a safe trip home and enjoy your evenings.
- Greg Seltzer