AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, Aug 14 – Last year’s semi-finalists Ajax reached the Champion League playoffs on Tuesday after seeing off PAOK Thessaloniki 3-2 in a tense encounter in Amsterdam to go through 5-3 on aggregate.
Two Dusan Tadic penalties, the second five minutes from time, and Nicolas Tagliafico’s late header kept Erik ten Hag’s side alive with a chance to relive the dream of last season, when they seduced Europe with a thrilling run to the last four.
Serb Tadic, who had already missed once from the spot for Ajax, slotted home the equaliser two minutes before the break after Diego Biseswar had silenced the Johan Cruyff Arena with a fine strike for PAOK midway through the half.
Tagliafico left the Greeks needing to score twice when he met Ziyech’s 79th-minute corner with a powerful header, and shortly after Tadic sealed a playoff clash against APOEL Nicosia, despite Biseswar scoring a second in stoppage time.
APOEL will face the Dutch giants for a place in the group stage, which begins next month, after overturning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg with a 2-0 win at Qarabag thanks to goals from Tomas De Vincenti and Urosh Matich.
Last year’s quarter-finalists Porto and Celtic, both former European champions, were dumped out with shock home defeats to Krasnodar and CFR Cluj respectively.
The Scottish champions from Glasgow were sent into the Europa League playoff round 5-4 on aggregate after losing a thrilling encounter 4-3 at Celtic Park.
Porto found their 1-0 first leg lead wiped out as Russian side Krasnodar scored three times in 33 minutes to take control of the tie before running out 3-2 winners to go through on the away goals rule.
Portugal’s two-time kings of Europe pulled level 3-3 on aggregate in the second half through Ze Luis and Luis Diaz, but could not find the winner despite having 25 shots.
Red Star Belgrade, the 1991 European champions, squeaked through 7-6 on penalties after a tense shootout decided on the 19th spot-kick at FC Copenhagen as the tie finished 1-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate.
Club Brugge survived via a 95th-minute equaliser in the dramatic 3-3 draw at Dynamo Kiev that saw three late goals — including two in stoppage time — and each side finish with 10 men as the Belgians made it to the playoffs 4-3 on aggregate.