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Photo Finish a Sad One for AZ
The Guardian, April 30th, 2007 4:01PM

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As close as the title races in England's Premiership and Spain's La Liga have been, there's no way the final day of the season in either league will be cut as close as the finale in the Dutch Eredivisie on Sunday. Heading into the final day, AZ Alkmaar, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven were level on points, with AZ in the lead thanks to a goal-differential of 53, compared with 47 for Ajax and 46 for PSV. A win would secure the title for AZ; a draw or loss and a win for either of the others would bring the title back to one of the Dutch giants.

And so it was, 10-man AZ fell, 3-2, away to Excelsior, Ajax won 2-0 at Willem II, and then, out of absolutely nowhere, PSV thumped Vitesse Arnheim, 5-1, leapfrogging the Amsterdam club on goal-differential to win the Eredivisie title. Notwithstanding the spectacular photo finish, many believe PSV was the least deserving of the three for wasting an 11-point lead at Christmas.

AZ,coached by the legendary Dutch tactician Louis Van Gaal, hadn't lost at Excelsior in 22 years; in light of that record, the Eredivisie trophy had even been delivered to the match. "It's a pity to let it slip when we were so near. I have never experienced this before," a teary-eyed Van Gaal said after the match. "I feel bad for the players. They didn't have the experience to clinch it," the former Barcelona coach added, suggesting he was blameless in the team's failure.

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