Ajax has qualified for the play-offs of the Champions League on Tuesday at the expense of PAOK and with considerable difficulty. The team from Amsterdam won 3-2 in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, after the second round in Greece ended in 2-2 last week.
Ajax fell behind in front of its own audience in the 23rd minute due to a goal by former Feyenoorder Diego Biseswar, but then prevented a surprising elimination in an occasionally heated match.
First, Dusan Tadic made it 1-1 in the 42nd minute with his second penalty (he had missed the first one just before), after which Ajax was 3-1 in the final phase thanks to a header by Nicolás Tagliafico and another penalty by Tadic .
In injury time, Biseswar scored 3-2 with a shot in the far corner, but in the last minute the Greeks had no more chances on the third goal.
Ajax, which was still in the semi-finals last season, will compete for a place in the group stage of the Champions League against APOEL Nicosia. The team from Cyprus made up for the previous 1-2-loss on Tuesday against the Azerbaijani Qarabag FK: 0-2.
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Dolberg on stand at Ajax
At Ajax, Kasper Dolberg was remarkably lacking in the match selection. The Danish striker, who is struggling with his shape, had to sit in the stands.
Ajax did not really get a grip on the physically strong PAOK in the initial phase. The home club was often a step too late when it came to putting pressure on, and as a result gave away a lot of space in the switchover, which made it possible for PAOK to come out of it regularly.
Yet the first big opportunity was for Ajax. After a nice combination with Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek came face to face with Alexandros Paschalakis, but PAOK's goalkeeper came out as the winner.
That moment did not cause Ajax to play better. The team remained sloppy and was presented halfway through the first half. After Chuba Akpom had hopelessly left over just before, it was Biseswar who scored fine.
After the 0-1 Ajax grabbed the initiative and it was therefore waiting for the 1-1. Tadic had a great opportunity to score 32 minutes into the game, but after a foul on David Neres he saw his first penalty kicked by Paschalakis.
Dusan Tadic misses the first of his three penalties. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Tadic hits second penalty kick
Tadic got another resit from 11 meters ten minutes later. He took responsibility again after a Biseswar handball and this time Paschalakis outsmarted with a marker in the middle.
With Noussair Mazraoui in midfield instead of Razvan Marin (substitute Sergiño Dest turned right back), Ten Hag tried to get more balance in his team at half-time, but the game also went up and down in the second half.
For example, Ajax was close to the lead via Ziyech (shot from the top corner beaten by Paschalakis) and Neres (well off with his lesser right leg) and PAOK, after losing Mazraoui, had a bad situation of three attackers against one defender.
In the last part of the second half it was more exciting than good, but Ajax managed to do it with art and flight work. Tagliafico headed the 2-1 out of a corner and Tadic also scored his third penalty of the evening: 3-1.
In injury time it became even more exciting after Biseswar of about 14 meters André Onana caught up in the far corner. PAOK went looking en masse for the third goal, but did not get any more chances.
See also: Relieved Tadic: 'Had to take responsibility with penalties'
View the results in the Champions League preliminary round