A double from Ajax captain, Davy Klaassen saw Ajax squeeze past PAOK and into the next round of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League – beating the Greek side 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate reports Steven Davies.
WEDNESDAY 3RD AUGUST 2016
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – THIRD QUALIFYING ROUND
PAOK 1-2 AJAX
(Ajax wins 3-2 on aggregate)
Playing an, at times, awkward 3-5-2 formation, Ajax found themselves with a proverbial mountain to climb after only four minutes when Stefanos Athanasiadis lost Heiko Westermann on the back post and beat Jasper Cillessen to put the Greek side ahead both on the night and in the tie overall following a 1-1 draw between the two sides in Amsterdam just over a week ago.
Faced with both the inhospitable temperatures in Thessaloniki and hostile atmosphere inside the Stadio Toumbas, the Ajax back three just could not come to grips with the illusive Athanasiadis who was denied by Cillessen on several occasions including a fantastic point black stop and a one-on-one between the two which the PAOK goal-scorer failed to convert inside the opening half hour.
Ajax built up a healthy advantage in terms of possession as the half wore on but could not convert their possession into clear cut chances while PAOK’s swift counter attacking through the evasive Garry Rodrigues found the Ajax backline turned inside out on more than one occasion with only Dutch international, Cillessen’s reflexes keeping the Amsterdam giants in the tie.
Ajax’s first real opportunity arrived at the feet of Cassierra after some deft control from a Dijks cross from the left found the new signing with the goal at his mercy – yet a stumble from the Colombian allowed PAOK ‘keeper, Glykos to recover.
It appeared that the tie was slipping away from the four-time European Cup winners until Viergever was brought down by Croatian defender, Marin Leovac in the PAOK box following an Ajax free kick from the right as the clock ticked into added time at the end of the first half.
Davy Klaassen duly dispatched the resultant spot kick to claw Peter Bosz and his men somewhat undeservedly back into the tie and in the process nullify the away goal the Greeks had bagged in Amsterdam.
A largely uneventful second stanza saw a slew of yellow cards and few opportunities – the majority of which fell to the home side.
A Tzavellas free kick on 53 minutes tested Cillessen’s reflexes and a looping header from PAOK substitute, Mystakidis rattled the Ajax’s keeper’s crossbar as the game entered the final quarter hour.
Yet, try as they might, the Greeks found de Godenzonen in resilient mood and, with the away side’s only opportunity of the half, a cross from the left found substitute Anwar El Ghazi whose cushioned header fell perfectly for Ajax skipper, Klaassen who duly drilled home to put the Amsterdammers ahead for the first time in the tie – the Dutch international’s strike ultimately proving enough to put the European giants into the next round of UEFA Champions League qualifying.
Man of the Match: Jasper Cillessen
Click on Steven’s name above to follow him on Twitter