Intriguing Champions League draw for Greek pair
PAOK will play either APOEL or Qarabag in the UEFA Champions League playoffs if they progress, while Olympiacos have been drawn against the winner of the Porto - Krasnodar pair.
Before they can think about the playoffs, PAOK have to defy the odds and defeat last season’s semi-finalists Ajax, but if the Greek champions progress they now know that either APOEL or Qarabag await. PAOK will likely be considered as favourites in the playoffs in the event they beat Ajax.
APOEL need no introduction. Perennial champions of Cyprus, APOEL are regularly involved in the group stages of UEFA competitions, notably reaching the quarter-finals of the 2011/2012 Champions League after defeating the likes of Zenit Saint Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Olympique Lyonnais along the way. APOEL last played in the group phase of the Champions League in 2017, registering two points in a group with Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund. This year, APOEL joined the Champions League in the second qualifying phase, comfortably defeating Sutjeska 4:0 on aggregate.
Although their name may not strike fear into opponents’ hearts, Qarabag have quietly been improving over the past few years, participating in the group stage of the 2017/2018 Champions League. Back in 2016, Qarabag shocked PAOK in the Europa League, beating the Greeks 2:0 at home and 1:0 on the road in the group phase. Seven-time national champions, Qarabag have a number of players from Spain and Brazil who provide the attacking flair in a team which has a strong Azeri core. Qarabag defeated Partizani (2:0) and Dundalk (4:1) in the first two qualifying rounds of the Champions League this summer.
In the third qualifying round, Olympiacos must defeat ambitious Turkish side Basaksehir in order to progress, and the Erythrolefki will play against the winner of the FC Porto - Krasnodar pair if they qualify for the playoffs.
Nowadays, Porto aren’t quite the force they once were, but their team still boasts several players of real quality. In the 2018/2019 season, Porto finished second in the Liga NOS behind champions Benfica, while reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League where they were thrashed by eventual winners Liverpool. Champions League regulars, Porto most recently won the tournament in 2004 under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, and they have become champions of Portugal on 28 occasions.
Krasnodar, owned by the wily Sergei Galitsky, have become a force to be reckoned with in Russia in a very short space of time. Founded in 2008, Krasnodar first played in the Russian Premier League in the 2011/2012 season, and they have since transformed into one of the big hitters. Starting from 2014, Krasnodar have never finished outside of the top five, claiming third place of the domestic championship two times. Playing their football at the state of the art Krasnodar Stadium, the Bulls have been impressive in Europe too, coming within one minute of making the quarter-finals of the 2018/2019 Europa League when playing Valencia. Incidentally, former Panathinaikos hero Marcus Berg currently plays for Krasnodar.
Full draw result for the 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League qualification playoffs: