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Antonio Di Natale was the only notable absentee as an otherwise full strength Udinese faced Eredivisie league leaders AZ Alkmaar on Thursday evening. This was only the third time the Bianconeri had reached the last sixteen of this competition, and it was Antonio Floro Flores leading the line again in Europe.

Udinese did the early pressing, an early corner from Giampiero Pinzi was met by Kwadwo Asamoah, but the Ghanaians left-footed effort flashed just wide of Esteban Alvarado’s goal.

AZ responded with a spell of sustained pressure and Swedish midfielder Rasmus Elm forced Samir Handanovic into action with a vicious shot from outside the area. Elm tested the Udinese keeper again with a free-kick as AZ continued to cause the Udinese defence problems.

Another attack from the hosts ended with the brilliantly named Maarten Martens forcing another fine save from Handanovic. Guidolin looked worried on the touchline, and with good reason. His backline were doing just about enough to keep things goalless, but his side looked bereft of ideas going forward.

AZ failed to make their domination count, and things remained all square as the game entered a lull after the half-hour mark. Alvarado had to be on his toes in the 37th minute when Pablo Armero’s twenty-five yarder almost crept under his crossbar.

The 22 year-old Costa-Rican international made another fine save from the resulting corner. Danilo’s powerful header was destined to open the scoring had it not been for the AZ stopper’s lightning-fast reactions.

Both teams had chances with several corners apiece, although there was nothing to separate the two sides as the half-time whistle went. AZ had almost completely controlled the game and the stats reflected that, with the Dutchmen having almost 70% of possession in the first period.

Pablo Armero looked the biggest attacking threat for the visitors, the Colombian winger making sure that AZ’s defence was alert in the opening exchanges after the restart. Aside from this, the Zebrette looked short of ideas and it looked as though Antonio Di Natale would be needed to provide a cutting edge.

Giovanni Pasquale saw his sweetly-struck effort loop wide in the 62nd minute, although just seconds later and his side were a goal down. Martens won the ball in his own half before releasing USA international Jozy Altidore down the left wing, Altidore then crossed for his Belgian team mate to head in from point-blank range to make it 1-0 to the home side.

Udinese almost struck level a few minutes later but Damiano Ferronetti failed to make the most of a good chance following a great cross from Armero. AZ looked the most likely to score going into the last fifteen minutes, but the introduction of Di Natale showed Guidolin was desperate for an away goal.

This wasn’t forthcoming as AZ doubled their lead with six minutes remaining. Altidore was again instrumental as his cross was met by Erik Falkenberg to give the hosts a deserved two-goal lead.

Udinese were lucky not to be three down in the 88th minute, Falkenburg’s bobbling effort forcing an outstanding save from Handanovic. The Dutch Under-21 international had made an instant impact since his introduction in the 77th minute.

Altidore should have done better in the final moments but his header was too close to Handanovic. Udinese were comfortably beaten in the end and are lucky to have lost by just the two goals, Guidolin may be regretting his decision not start Di Natale after watching his side lose so comfortably.

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