PAOK dumped out of Europe
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - PLAY OFFS (LEG 2)
PAOK were dumped out of Europe on Thursday despite a thrilling 3-2 home win over Slovan Bratislava in the second leg of their Europa League play-off tie, with the Slovaks going through on away goals after the scores finished 3-3 on aggregate.
Following the dramatic late 1-0 first leg win a week ago for Slovan, goals from Jurij Medvedev and Vernon De Marco secured the draw which sent PAOK crashing out of the competition - a result which comes as a bitter blow for the reigning Greek double-winners, who had harboured hopes of playing in the Champions League before being eliminated in the qualifiers earlier this summer in controversial circumstances by Ajax.
And now their chances of playing in the Europa League group stage have been scuppered by their determined Slovakian opponents.
There had been hopes of an astonishing comeback for PAOK when two goals goals from Dimitris Limnios and Karol Swiderski within two minutes at the start of the second half put PAOK 2-1 ahead, with the hosts needing just one more goal to progress.
But De Marco’s strike a minute after the hour mark seemed to extinguish those hopes, before Dimitris Giannoulis then set up a breathless finish by scoring a superb long range effort to make it 3-2 to PAOK on the night.
It was not to be PAOK’s night though, with striker Chuba Akpom also missing a golden chance in the last minute of added time which would have taken the Thessaloniki club through.
PAOK came into the match looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit in Thessaloniki in order to advance to the Europa League group stages, and they knew a do-or-die battle awaited them.
However, Abel Ferreira’s men, who were back to winning ways over the weekend with the Greek Super League commencing, did not seem to be at the races in front of their home fans.
Apart from an early header from Akpom which was saved by Dominik Greif, the home side did not have much in the offering in the way of scoring chances, and the Toumba froze in the 38th minute when the visitors took the lead.
It came from a set-piece where everyone was expecting a cross, but instead Medvedev sent a thunderous shot past the hapless PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis, who has to take a huge slice of responsibility for his poor positioning.
At half-time a stunned PAOK side managed to regroup and within five minutes of the restart the home side were astonishingly 2-1 ahead.
First Limnios levelled the match on the night with a clinical finish from a superb Giannoulis cross in the 49th minute, and then just a minute later Swiderski converted Rodrigo’s center after good play from Akpom.
The Toumba erupted after that and both fans and players sensed that an incredible fightback was on the cards.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as PAOK allowed Slovan in again in the 61st minute when De Marco struck following some poor marking after a corner.
That strike came like a blow to the ribs for PAOK, and they almost conceded again seven minutes later when Vasil Bozhikov hit the woodwork.
PAOK did not give up though, and Douglas came close to getting on the end of a free-kick, only to collide with a post before he could make contact with the ball. Then Josip Misic had an effort on goal which was saved brilliantly by Greif with seven minutes left.
The hosts needed two more goals to go through, however, and they piled on the pressure in the closing stages, with Giannoulis’ goal three minutes from full-time putting PAOK 3-2 ahead and within one more goal of progressing.
But despite frenzied pressure, a baying Toumba crowd, and five minutes of added time, Slovan somehow survived to send PAOK out, with Akpom missing the target after being presented with a chance by a defensive mistake by Slovan.
PAOK: 31 Paschalakis (GK), 2 Alves Soares, 5 Varela, 7 El Kaddouri, 10 Pelkas ©, 15 Crespo, 18 Limnios, 21 Biseswar, 23 Giannoulis, 24 Esiti, 47 Akpom
Slovan: 1 Greif (GK), 6 de Kamps, 7 Rharsalla, 9 Šporar, 10 Ibrahim, 14 Abena, 17 Medveděv, 27, Holman, 29 Bozhikov ©, 66 Bajrić, 81 De Marco