- PAOK Returns to the Champions League -
GREEK SUPERLEAGUE PLAYOFFS - MATCHDAY 6
|PAOK||1 - 1||Panathinaikos|
|Rodrigues 17'||Lod 26'
PAOK is returning to the UEFA Champions League after a three-year absence! The Dikefalos tou Vora got the point they were looking for against Panathinaikos (1-1 draw) and finished first in this year's SuperLeague Playoffs. PAOK will play in next year's Champion League while Panathinaikos, who finished second in the playoffs, will play in the Europa League.
A heated match was expected at the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki between first placed PAOK and second placed Panathinaikos. PAOK needed only one point to secure first place in the playoffs, while only a win would do for Panathinaikos. PAOK was the first to threaten when Malezas’s turn-around shot was well saved by Steele. In the 17th minute, Rodrigues’ thunderous strike beat Steele to give the home side the 1-0 lead. The goal put PAOK in the driver’s seat; however 9 minutes later, Lod equalized for Panathinaikos. His left footed strike took a fortunate deflection of Vitor and ended in the back of the net. The first half ended with the scores tied at 1-1. The players from both teams played with passion in the second half, but few chances where created on goal. The final 10 minutes where nerve racking for both teams, as a goal for either side would prove to be decisive. Petric almost scored the go-ahead goal for Panathinaikos in the 85th minute, but Glykos made the save of the game to keep the scores leveled at 1-1. PAOK then responded with chances to put the game away, but the goal did not come. In the final minute of stoppage time, Panathinaikos was awarded a corner and everyone was forward for the final chance of the game, including the goalie Luke Steele, Miraculously, Steele connected with a header that grazed the post and the PAOK supporters breathed a sigh of relief. The final whistle came from the official and PAOK secured their place in next year’s Champions League!
Despite starting with 0 points in the playoffs (Panathinaikos & AEK started with 2 points), PAOK claimed top spot with an undefeated record. This is a great ending to PAOK’s inconsistent season and PAOK will join Olympiacos in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round. Olympiacos will play in the “Champions Route” while PAOK will qualify through the “League Route.” Additionally, the Dikefalos tou Vora will play in Europe’s elite competition for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. On the other hand, Panathinaikos will join AEK in the Europa League 3rd Qualifying Round.
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