PAOK’s path to the UEFA Champions League group stages
AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis explains PAOK’s path to the UEFA Champions League group stages breaking down the possible opponents, the qualifying format, and key dates during the qualifying process.
Greece’s representatives for the 2019/20 UEFA season
At the end of the 2017/18 UEFA season, Greece finished 15th in UEFA's Associations’ Club Coefficient Ranking. With this placement, the 2018/19 Greek Super League and Cup yielded a total of five representatives for next year's 2019/20 UEFA Champions League and Europa League. The top two teams from the Super League will enter the Champions League (PAOK, Olympiacos) while the third through fifth placed teams of the Super League (AEK, Atromitos, Aris) will enter the UEFA Europa League (fifth placed Aris were granted a place in Europe due to PAOK winning the Greek Cup).
PAOK’s path to the Champions League group stages
As in previous seasons, Champions League qualifying will be separated into two groups: The Champions Route, consisting of teams that won their domestic leagues, and the League Route, consisting of teams that did not win their domestic leagues. As a league champion, PAOK will participate in the Champion’s Route.
Since the domestic league champions of associations ranked 1st-12th in the UEFA Associations' Club Coefficient Rankings will automatically qualify for the group stages, PAOK can only be drawn with champions from associations ranked 13th-55th in the qualifying rounds. Forty three teams will partake in the Champions League ‘Champions Route’ qualifying rounds and only four will qualify for the group stages.
As Greece’s Super League champion, PAOK will enter the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round (Champions Route), meaning the Dikefalos will need to progress through TWO qualifying rounds (third round and playoffs) to qualify for the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League group stages. PAOK were originally scheduled to begin in the second qualifying round, however since the 2019 UEFA Champions League champions, Liverpool, have already secured a place in the Champions League group stages via their domestic finish, PAOK were granted a bye to the third qualifying round.
If PAOK are victorious in the third qualifying round, they will advance to the Champions League playoffs, however defeat will send them to the UEFA Europa League playoffs (Champions Route).
If AEK are then victorious in the playoffs, they will advance to the UEFA Champions League group stages, however defeat will send them to the UEFA Europa League group stages (no additional qualifiers needed).
All qualifying rounds consist of a two-legged playoff and the team with the most goals over two legs (on aggregate) will progress to the next round. In the case of a tie on aggregate after two legs, the team with the most away goals will advance. For more clarification on the qualifying process, follow the links to the full Champions League Format and Europa League Format.
PAOK’s possible opponents
Due to PAOK’s low placement in UEFA's Club Coefficient Ranking (64th), the Dikefalos will almost certainly be "unseeded" for the third qualifying round draw, leading to a theoretically more difficult opponent.
As of now (if PAOK remain unseeded for the third qualifying round draw), Ajax (NED) are the only confirmed possible opponents for PAOK in the third qualifying round. The other five possible opponents will be determined after the conclusion of the second qualifying round.
Notable possible opponents include: Ludogorets (BUL), Celtic (SCO), APOEL (CYP), Astana (KAZ), BATE (BLR), FC Kobenhavn (DEN), and Dinamo Zagreb (CRO).
If PAOK advance to the Champions League playoffs, their possible opponents include the teams mentioned above plus Slavia Prague (CZE) and Young Boys (SUI).
It is worth noting that the draw for the playoffs will take place before the end of the third qualifying round. This scheduling benefits PAOK as they could be ‘seeded’ in the playoff draw if they are drawn with a strong coefficient club in the third qualifying round (a theoretically tougher opponent). In this case, the coefficient of the higher team (in this scenario PAOK’s opponents) will be used to seed the teams in the playoff draw. If PAOK eliminate their opponents in the third qualifying round, they will benefit from this triumph and will be matched with an unseeded team in the playoffs (an opponent they will already know since the playoff draw will occur before the end of the third qualifying round). AEK, who were in a similar situation last season, benefited from this as they knocked out the ‘seeded’ Celtic in the third qualifying round and played against unseeded Vidi in the playoffs to qualify for the group stages.
Important Champions League qualifying dates for PAOK
22 July: Third qualifying round draw
5 August: Playoff round draw
6/7 August: Third qualifying round, first leg
13 August: Third qualifying round, second leg
20/21 August: Play-off round, first leg
27/28 August: Play-off round, second leg