PAOK begin Champions League pursuit against Ajax
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - 3rd QUALIFYING ROUND (Leg 1)
PAOK are aiming to upset last season’s semi-finalists Ajax in front of a sold-out Toumba Stadium in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. AGONAsport’s Athan Stylos previews the crucial encounter.
The Greek champions are focused on gaining revenge against Ajax having lost against these opponents in the Champions League qualifiers in both 2010 and 2016.
Following last season’s elimination at the final hurdle in the Champions League playoff round against Benfica, PAOK will be eager to make up for that disappointing night and finally qualify for the coveted group stages. Dropping down to the UEFA Europa League in that particular season, PAOK contrived to fall apart in a group with Chelsea, BATE Borisov and Vidi, losing five out of six matches to finish in last place. A vast improvement is required in Europe this time around.
The encounter against the Dutch champions will be PAOK’s first competitive match under new manager Abel Ferreira. No one expected Romanian coach Razvan Lucescu to leave PAOK this summer, but after steering the Dikefalos tou Vorra to the Greek double, he suddenly decided to depart Thessaloniki in favour of Al-Hilal.
Ajax produced a memorable run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in the previous season, falling short in dramatic circumstances against Tottenham Hotspur. They were the giant-killers of the competition, downing European powerhouses Real Madrid and Juventus in the knockout stages. Alongside their continental success, Ajax held their nerve domestically, winning both the Eredivisie and Dutch Cup in dominant fashion.
Ajax began their 2019/2020 Eredivisie campaign with a surprising 2:2 draw against Vitesse this weekend. The reigning Dutch champions dominated the encounter, boasting 70% of possession whilst also producing 26 shots during the game, with nine of those being on target. The goalscorers for Ajax were Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic, as the Amsterdam club twice came from behind twice to salvage a point on the road:
TEAM NEWS: PAOK
There have not been many surprises to the 26-man squad that Abel Ferreira announced last week. However, club captain Vieirinha, Mauricio and Pontus Wernbloom are all missing due to long-term injuries suffered last season. Chuba Akpom will lead the line for PAOK after scoring four goals in the team’s last friendly against Fortuna Sittard. Omar El Kaddouri has impressed in pre-season in a central midfield role and is expected to start for the Dikefalos tou Vorra.
Possible line-up: Paschalakis, Matos, Varela, Crespo, Giannoulis, Esiti, El Kaddouri, Jaba, Biseswar, Pelkas, Akpom.
TEAM NEWS: AJAX
Ajax have lost some key personnel over the summer transfer period, including talented youngsters Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong. Gifted winger David Neres only re-joined Ajax last week following his break after the Copa America and could make an appearance off the bench.
Possible line-up: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs, Martinez, Tagliafico, Marin, Blind, van de Beek, Ziyech, Tadic, Dolberg.
REFEREE: SLAVKO VINCIC (SVN)
UEFA has appointed Slovenian Slavko Vincic to referee the encounter in Thessaloniki. The 39-year-old refereed PAOK in 2016 against Fiorentina on matchday one of the Europa League group stage, a match which ended 0:0 at the Toumba Stadium. Vincic was also the man in charge between Olympiacos and Burnley in the first leg of the Europa League playoffs last season.
Referee: Slavko Vincic (SVN)
Assistant referees: Tomaz Klancnik (SVN), Andraz Kovacic (SVN)
Fourth official: Rade Obrenovic (SVN)
WHERE TO WATCH
Watch the match LIVE on Go Greek TV!