Ajax’s title hopes falter
Ajax’s Dutch league hopes faltered in a 1-0 home defeat against SC Heerenveen on Saturday. AZ Alkmaar have 47 points, Ajax 41 and FC Twente 40. Danijel Pranjic gave Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg no chance with a 59th-minute left-footed free-kick from 20m. Referee Roelof Luinge, handling his 508th league match, dismissed Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen in the 47th minute for a last-man foul on Roy Beerens. Vermaelen’s red card was Ajax’s fifth this season. “We made it difficult for ourselves, but we still have to play 14 matches. Anything can happen,” Ajax coach Marco van Basten said. Struggling in front of goal since Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s recent move to Real Madrid, Ajax’s strikers rarely threatened Heerenveen goalkeeper Brian Vandenbussche. Gabri could have earned his side a draw in the 84th minute off an Urby Emanuelson through-ball, but Vandenbussche got to the ball first. Vitesse Arnhem won only their fourth game of the season, demonstrating their determination to clear the relegation zone in a 2-0 win over Willem II. Mads Junker and Ricky van Wolfswinkel were on target for Vitesse. Last-place FC Volendam picked a morale-boosting point at NAC Breda when Rowin van Zaanen scored in the 70th minute to cancel out Joonas Kolkka’s 64th-minute opener. Elsewhere, Gonzalo Garcia scored in the 75th minute to give FC Groningen a 1-0 win at ADO The Hague.
Larissa beat OFI, stay fifth
Stelios Giannakopoulos marked his return to the Greek league after a six-year stint in the English Premier League with two goals to lead his new team Larissa to a 2-1 away win over OFI on Saturday. It was the first game in Greece for the 34-year-old winger who also has 77 caps for the Greek national team. The win ensured Larissa retained fifth place in the standings with 30 points, 18 behind league leaders Olympiakos. Zdravko Popovic put OFI ahead in the 81st minute, two minutes before Giannakopoulos leveled with a header. In the second minute of injury-time, Giannakopoulos headed in his second goal from close range to secure Larissa’s seventh win in 20 games. Elsewhere, Aris Thessaloniki beat crosstown rivals Iraklis 1-0.
Benfica win 1-0, go top
Benfica beat last-place Rio Ave 1-0 to gain the provisional lead in the Portuguese league on Saturday. Substitute Pedro Mantorras collected Oscar Cardozo’s flick-on to score a 70th-minute winner that kept Benfica unbeaten at the Stadium of Light, while handing Rio Ave their fifth straight loss. Benfica lead the standings with 33 points after 16 games, two points better than Sporting and FC Porto. Elsewhere, Trofense continued their good run against the top three after holding Sporting to 0-0. The bottom-of-the-table club have already beaten Benfica and drawn at Porto this season.
Latics agree fee for N’Zogbia
Newcastle United’s unsettled French midfielder Charles N’Zogbia could be on his way to Wigan Athletic after the Premier League clubs agreed a fee. The 22-year-old said he would never play for Newcastle again after his name was mispronounced by team manager Joe Kinnear during a post-match television interview after the 2-1 defeat by Manchester City on Wednesday. “We have agreed a fee with Newcastle and it’s up to us now to convince the boy Wigan is the place to come and enjoy himself, kick-start his career,” Wigan boss Steve Bruce said.