Ajax started the European season on Tuesday with a draw at PAOK Saloniki in the third preliminary round of the Champions League. The team from Amsterdam recovered after a moderate first half: 2-2.
Ajax led early through a directional free kick by Hakim Ziyech, but before the break it went wrong. Chuba Akpom and Leo Matos scored for PAOK.
In the second half, substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made it close to 2-2. After that goal there was more for Ajax against the tired looking PAOK, but the winning goal was no longer.
The return between Ajax and PAOK is next Tuesday at 8.30 p.m. in the Johan Cruijff Arena. Three days earlier, the reigning Dutch champion plays in the second Eredivisie round at home against FC Emmen (kick-off: 19.45 hrs).
Ajax starts well in Thessaloniki
Initially, there was nothing wrong with Ajax in Thessaloniki on Tuesday. Trainer Ten Hag, who chose Noussair Mazraoui in midfield over Razvan Marin and held on to Kasper Dolberg, saw that his team controlled and was the most dangerous. PAOK was watching the counter.
With almost the first real opportunity for Ajax it was immediately in touch. Ziyech turned a free kick in sharply and the ball landed through the head of PAOK defender Dimitris Giannoulis into the goal.
Ajax held the upper hand and Ziyech was close to 0-2 with a directional shot. The second Amsterdam goal seemed closer than the equalizer, but after more than half an hour it went wrong.
PAOK was given a lot of room in the event of a counter-strike and on the instructions of former Feyenoorder Diego Biseswar striker Chuba Akpom hit the mark. Ajax lost it and seven minutes later Leo Matos signed with a nice header with 2-1, after which Joël Veltman even prevented 3-1 with a good intervention.
Predominance leads to Huntelaar's hit
In the second half Ajax went looking for the equalizer and that seemed to come soon. Ziyech was able to play freely in a nice attack, but the playmaker shot over.
Although the Ten Hag team was not really convincing, Ajax was more often close to PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis than the Greeks turned up for Ajax goalkeeper André Onana.
After more than ten minutes, with a bit of luck, it did hit. Huntelaar, who came in for the injured Dolberg in the first half, was kicked in front of the goal by PAOK defender Fernando Varela.
Towards the final phase, the Greeks looked more tired and Ajax kept the initiative, but last year's semi-finalist in the Champions League was not sharp enough in the front to finish it. The biggest chance was for Huntelaar, who tapped alongside.