PAOK’s European journey
The distinct aura of European competitions was and will always be a special motive for every footballer and for the team. PAOK’s journey abroad started half a century ago, in 1965, in a competition long extinct (it ceased to exist in the early ‘70s) and not recognized by UEFA.
In the first round of the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup, PAOK faced Wiener Sportklub from Austria. The maiden European match of the “Double-Headed Eagle” took place on 15 September 1965 in Kaftanzoglio Stadium and not at Toumba, due to lack of floodlights.
The visitors took the lead in the 52nd minute, but PAOK turned the tie around with goals by Giorgos Koudas (62’) and Mouratidis (75’). Yugoslavian Božidar Botić refereed that first encounter. The team PAOK fielded was the following: Mouselemidis, Mitrakas, Theofanidis, Giakoumis, G.Mouratidis, A.Vasiliadis, I.Nikolaidis, L.Symeonidis, Koudas, Afentoulidis, K.Apostolidis.
In the second leg in Austria, PAOK were subjected to a 6-0 thrashing. They suffered two more eliminations (at the hands of RFC Liège from Belgium and FC Dinamo București from Romania) and then they… moved to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972-73. They came across another Austrian outfit, SK Rapid Wien, and were eliminated on the away goal rule.
The road to the quarters
PAOK first managed to make it past a European round in the following season –and did so twice. It was their finest run to date in the European competitions, as Les Shannon’ troops made it to the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals impressing with their displays.
The journey towards the quarters started on 19 September 1973 in Poland. They faced Legia Warszawa and couldn’t count on suspended Giorgos Koudas (he was serving a two-match ban following his dismissal in the 2-2 draw against SK Rapid in Vienna). PAOK recorded a 1-1 draw at “Łazienkowska” Stadium. Christos Terzanidis broke the deadlock in the 51st minute and the Polish leveled eight minutes later. Koulis Apostolidis and Achilleas Aslanidis had their shots denied by woodwork. PAOK sealed their qualification on 3 October 1973 at packed Toumba. The decider was scored by Dimitris Paridis in the 79th minute.
Next up, Olympique Lyonnais. On 24 October 1973, at “Stade de Gerland”, Lyon were held to a 3-3 draw in a spectacular encounter. They took the lead through their star player Bernard Lacombe after just 10 minutes of play. PAOK struck back with two goals by Aslanidis (44’) and Terzanidis (50’). Fleury di Nallo leveled one minute later. Daniel Ravier put the home side back on the driver’s seat, before Stavros Sarafis made it 3-3 nine minutes from time.
In the second leg at Toumba (7 November 1973), PAOK recorded an impressive 4-0 victory, leaving the French no room for reaction. Dimitris Paridis gave the home side the lead in the 25th minute and Achilleas Aslanidis doubled their advantage in the 38th minute netting a spot kick. Paridis was on target again in the 58th minute and Christos Terzanidis made it 4-0 to seal a historic win. The report of French newspaper L’Equipe is evidence enough of what happened that night at Toumba Stadium: “We were ready to scream: Stop the slaughter and retrieve the passports of the French. France’s football should not be exported in Europe”.
The quarter-finals’ draw was held on 16 January 1974 and paired PAOK with title holders AC Milan –they had won the previous edition in 1973 defeating Leeds United in Thessaloniki. Back then, Milan had Gianni Rivera at their ranks along with internationals Sabadini, Schnellinger, Bianchi, Bigon, Benetti and Chiarugi. The first leg match was held in San Siro on 13 March 1974. Shannon fielded the following PAOK line-up: Chatzioannou, Chatzikonstantinou, Fountoukidis, Iosifidis, Pellios, Terzanidis, Paridis, Sarafis, Papadopoulos, Koudas and Aslanidis. Lazos took Terzanidis’ place in the 43rd minute and Kermanidis came off the bench in the 80th minute to substitute Paridis.
AC Milan took the lead in the 12th minute through Bigon. Five minutes later, Sarafis scored but Maltese referee Paul Bonnet disallowed the goal on the offside rule. The Italian outfit netted twice more (Benetti and Chiarugi on target). Despite PAOK’s defeat in Milan, Toumba Stadium was packed for the second leg, held on 20 March 1974. A total of 43.882 tickets were sold and the “Double-Headed Eagle” put up quite a fight against their mighty rivals. Stavros Sarafis gave PAOK the lead in the 27th minute with an impressive header. The home side missed several opportunities before Bigon leveled for Milan. Another header by Sarafis restored PAOK’s advantage, but Tressoldi sealed the final 2-2 in the 77th minute.
Barcelona, Bayern and Maradona
PAOK played their maiden match in the UEFA Cup in 1975. The first opponent to visit Toumba that season were mighty FC Barcelona, boasting the talents of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens. However, even the Blaugrana succumbed to Toumba’s power. On 16 September 1975, PAOK recorded one of the most significant victories in their European history. Gyula Lóránt’s troops prevailed 1-0 thanks to a Giorgos Koudas’ goal. In the second leg, at “Camp Nou”, PAOK lost 6-1.
One season later, Greek champions PAOK debutized in the UEFA Champions’ Cup. They eliminated AC Omonia with a 2-0 win at Cyprus and a 1-1 draw in Toumba Stadium, but were stopped on their tracks by powerful FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Gradually PAOK gained significant experience from such encounters, began recording qualifications and holding their own against traditional European forces like FC Bayern München. The encounters against the Bavarians for the UEFA Cup of 1983-84 have a special place in PAOK’s Hall of Fame.
The first leg at Toumba ended in goalless draw, while the second leg in Munich’s Olympic Stadium remains unforgettable to this day. After a battle of titanic proportions, the two sides faced off in a penalty shootout, PAOK eventually losing 9-8!
Five years later, and after having already come across Cruyff and Rummenigge, PAOK faced Diego Maradona, SSC Napoli’s “God”. The Italian side prevailed 1-0 in the San Paolo leg. Tickets for the Toumba match had been sold out one week earlier and there were no free seats on 21 September 1988, as everybody flocked to watch Diegito live. Napoli took the lead through Careca and PAOK leveled a Skartados goal. After the final whistle, Maradona raved about the magnificent atmosphere created by PAOK’s faithful.
The bleak page of Paris Saint-Germain
PAOK suffered one more elimination through penalty shootout in the first round of the 1990-91 UEFA Cup. The Double-Headed Eagle and Sevilla FC couldn’t break the deadlock –the Spanish sealed their passage to the following round with a 4-3 score from the spot! In 1991-92, PAOK eliminated KV Mechelen of Belgium in the first round. They faced FC Tirol Innsbruck behind closed doors, banned by UEFA for crowd trouble in the Toumba leg against KV Mechelen.
The Thessaloniki club would go on to face worse situations. PAOK were paired with Paris Saint-Germain FC in the first round of the UEFA Cup. The first leg at “Parc des Princes” marked the European debut of David Ginola, while PAOK were missing several regular players. They were reduced to ten in the 63rd minute, after Alexis Alexiou’s dismissal. The French outfit prevailed 2-0 gaining a healthy advantage in the tie. The second leg at Toumba was marred by serious incidents at the end of the first half – Paris Saint-Germain were already leading 2-0 all but clinching qualification. Dutch referee John Blankenstein and UEFA Referee Observer Károly Palotai registered the referee act. On 4 October, UEFA Disciplinary Committee decided the following:
- The encounter was declared as forfeited and PAOK were deemed to have lost the game 0-3.
- PAOK were excluded from participating in the next UEFA club competition for which it would otherwise qualify in the following two seasons.
PAOK FC filed an appeal and managed to have their ban reduced to one year. They returned to European competition in 1997-98. The first leg against FC Spartak Trnava made it to the history books thanks to PAOK’s remarkable comeback. Despite trailing 0-3 after 30 minutes of play, they turned it around and won 5-3. The fact that the Double-Headed Eagle were reduced to 10 following Spyros Marangos’ dismissal made the feat all the more astonishing. In the second leg, Thodoros Zagorakis scored the solitary goal and sealed qualification to the next stage, where Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal FC were waiting.
The Highbury opus
On 16 September 1997, Kostas Fratzeskos’ goal decided the Toumba encounter against the Gunners and, a fortnight later, the Double-Headed Eagle created a huge upset in “Highbury”. Arsenal cancelled out the first-leg’s result through a goal by Dennis Bergkamp in the 22nd minute and applied pressure to score a second goal. However three minutes from time, Zisis Vryzas leveled to 1-1 with a powerful shot sealing a historic qualification over Arsenal, who would go on to win the domestic double that season. The ties against Club Atlético de Madrid would follow –the 4-4 draw at Toumba remains unforgettable.
In the following years, PAOK would continue their European journey without fail. On 16 September 1999, they recorded their largest victory in the European Cups, a 7-0 over Lokomotivi Tbilisi. In 2001-02, they defeated 1.FK Příbram 6-1 –along with this season’s 6-1 win over FC Dinamo Minsk, these are the largest European victories at home.
Qualification in Istanbul
In 2010-11, PAOK were paired with AFC Ajax in the UEFA Champions League qualifying stage and just missed out on a spot in the play-offs. After a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, they were held 3-3 in Toumba, the Dutch side qualifying on the away goals rule. PAOK transferred to the UEFA Europa League play-offs where they recorded one of their most significant accomplishments ever.
The Double-Headed Eagle defeated Fenerbahçe SK in Thessaloniki, with a solitary goal by Vieirinha. At “Şükrü Saracoğlu” Stadium, Fener leveled the tie, forcing extra time. Zlatan Muslimović shocked the home crowd to hand PAOK qualification to the group stage. They were drawn in the same group with Villarreal CF, GNK Dinamo Zagreb and Club Brugge KV and managed to make it to the knock out stages. There, they succumbed to PFC CSKA Moskva (0-1, 1-1).
That win in “White Hart Lane”
PAOK would return to the UEFA Europa League group stage in the following season, after seeing off Vålerenga Fotball and FC Karpaty Lviv in the qualifiers. The Double-Headed Eagle topped a group consisting of Tottenham Hotspur FC, FC Rubin Kazan and Shamrock Rovers FC. Their 2-1 win over the Spurs in “White Hart Lane” stood out. In the last 32, they couldn’t overcome the hurdle of Udinese Calcio.
The "Champions' League" Project
The 2012-13 season was a bad interval –PAOK were ousted early by SK Rapid Wien. In the following season, they started their journey in late July, against FC Metalist Kharkiv. The Ukrainian side were expelled from the competition by UEFA due to their implication in fixed encounters at home. PAOK took their place in the UEFA Champions League play-offs to face FC Schalke 04.
Thanks to a spectacular goal by Miroslav Stoch, PAOK earned a 1-1 draw at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. Qualification was decided behind closed doors at Toumba. The Thessaloniki outfit put on a huge effort, cancelled Schalke’s lead twice and tried to score a third goal that would seal their maiden participation in the UEFA Champions League group stage. However they failed to convert their chances, allowing the Germans to score at stoppage time. PAOK transferred to the UEFA Europa League.
PAOK were drawn in the same group as AZ, Maccabi Haifa FC and FC Shakhter Karagandy. Huub Stevens’ pupils secured their passage to the knock-out stage undefeated –they recorded two wins (2-1 over Shakhter and 3-2 over Maccabi) and one draw at home (2-2 with AZ) and two draws (0-0 with Maccabi and 1-1 with AZ) and one victory away from Toumba (2-0 over Shakhter). PAOK finished second in their group and were drawn to play against SL Benfica in the last 32 stage of the competition. The first leg was held at Toumba and the Lisbon outfit edged out a 1-0 win through a goal by Lima that should have been disallowed on the offside rule. At “Estádio Da Luz”, the Double-Headed Eagle fought hard for 70 minutes chasing after a famous comeback. But at some point they ran out of ideas and stamina and that is when Benfica’s superior quality became evident, the Portuguese rushing to a 4-0 win.
In the current season, PAOK eliminated FC Zimbru Chișinău to qualify for the UEFA Europa League group stage, but failed to continue their streak of participations in the round of last 32. They played against ACF Fiorentina, EA Guingamp and FC Dinamo Minsk. They defeated the team from Belarus twice, got a 1-1 draw at “Artemio Franchi”, but lost twice to the French team and were confined to third place of the group.
Borussia Dortmund yield
In 2014-15, PAOK were paired with FC Zimbru Chișinău on their way to the UEFA Europa League group stage. Despite losing 1-0 in Moldova, they qualified comfortably thanks to Toumba power in the second leg. In the group stage, they were drawn against ACF Fiorentina, EA Guingamp and FC Dinamo Minsk. They defeated the team from Belarus twice, got a 1-1 draw at “Artemio Franchi”, but their two home defeats spelled elimination.
The summer of 2015 signaled a weird and tough period for the team. For the first time ever, PAOK had to negotiate a three-round UEFA Europa League qualifying campaign. They played their first encounter in mid-July. Without proper preparation and fielding a different squad from round to round due to roster changes, Igor Tudor managed to steer his troops away from trouble. NK Lokomotiva Zagreb caused PAOK fans a bit of stress with their 2-1 win in the first leg, but crashed and burned in Toumba (6-0). FC Spartak Trnava put on a decent fight, but couldn’t overcome PAOK’s hurdle (1-0, 1-1). As for Brøndby IF, they were overwhelmed in packed Toumba, losing 5-0, Róbert Mak netting a hat-trick. The second leg was just a formality (1-1).
PAOK had no luck in the UEFA Europa League group stage draw, landing in a group with Borussia Dortmund, FC Krasnodar and Qäbälä FC. They had no luck on the pitch either. Mere details saw them lose to all three rivals in their first matches and, by the time they visited FC Krasnodar in Russia, they had their back against the wall. Despite their unsuccessful journey, PAOK boast a huge victory in Germany over Borussia Dortmund. With nothing to play for but their prestige, the “Double-Headed Eagle” proved their might and recorded one of the most important wins of their European history.
PAOK personality and character
Winning the 2015-16 Super League play-offs allowed PAOK the opportunity to chase after the UEFA Champions League dream. They were paired against old acquaintances: AFC Ajax. The “Double-Headed Eagle” took the lead in “Amsterdam Arena” with Djalma Campos, but left Netherlands with a 1-1 result. In Thessaloniki, AFC Ajax’s luck was uncanny. With just one attempt on goal in 90 minutes, they managed to prevail 2-1. PAOK performed very well, but were deprived of qualification because of their poor finishing, wasting glorious opportunities to take a 3-0 lead in the first half-hour.
PAOK continued their European journey in the UEFA Europa League group stage, eliminating FC Dinamo Tbilisi in the process. They were drawn against ACF Fiorentina, FC Slovan Liberec and Qarabağ FK. The goalless draw against the ‘Viola” in Toumba Stadium and the 2-1 victory in the Czech Republic made PAOK comfortable in their group, but back-to-back defeats by Qarabağ FK spelled trouble for the “Double-Headed Eagle”. The troops of Vladan Ivić however managed to secure their qualification to the knock-out stages thanks to their tough character and personality. They won 3-2 in Florence thanks to a buzzer-beater by Garry Rodrigues and defeated FC Slovan Liberec 2-0 at home.
PAOK were drawn against FC Schalke 04 in the last 32 stage. The “Royal Blues” were cynically effective and prevailed 3-0 in Toumba Stadium. PAOK’s remarkable effort in the second leg of “Veltins Arena” wasn’t enough to lead them to a total comeback.
The season we’d prefer to forget
In the summer of 2017 PAOK started with a win and a draw in the 2nd qualifying round against Olympik Donetsk. The next opponent in the playoffs is Swedish outfit Ostersund. Razvan Lucescu’s first match in the dugout with the Double-headed Eagle as the home side and winning 3-1. What followed, however, was not in the script. Yes, the Swedes may have eliminated Galatasary in the previous round, but few expected PAOK to concede two goals in seven minutes, to then collapse and be eliminated in the worst possible way.
Qualification is lost once more at the Toumba
The next and toughest road to qualifying for the Champions League groups to date was in 2018. The change in the way the qualifiers were conducted, and the reduction in the number of qualifying places for Greece meant that a superhuman effort was needed to make the dream come true. PAOK almost did it, coming closer than ever, but in the end the Double-headed Eagle could not quite complete the miracle. The club’s first opponents were a strong Basel side. The experience of the Swiss in Europe’s elite competition was not enough to withstand PAOK’s quality. A 2-1 win at the Toumba was followed up by an impressive 3-0 away win for PAOK at St. Jacob Park, and Razvan Lucescu’s team were on their way.
Next up was the equally, if not stronger, Spartak Moscow. The Russians went 2-0 ahead at the Toumba and probably believed that the contest was already over after just 15 minutes. Big mistake. Because before the end of the first half, PAOK had fought back in impressive fashion to win the match 3-2. Again, however, the Russians thought that with this scoreline they would have enough to see the tie through in the second leg. Wrong again. A defensively-solid PAOK were also dangerous going forward, and the match ended 0-0 at the Spartak Arena, meaning PAOK claimed a ticket for the playoffs.
Then came Benfica. At the Da Luz, the Portuguese were dominant but PAOK came away with a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal from Amr Warda. Unfortunately, it was a result that did not help PAOK to break the unwanted tradition of losing out on qualification at the Toumba. Aleksandar Prijovic opened the scoring early on as PAOK dominated the opening 20 minutes, but then everything went wrong. PAOK were caught cold for the first goal from a corner, then a defensive lapse, and some great saves from Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos meant that Benfica went through with a 4-1 aggregate score that was extremely harsh on PAOK.
Following this elimination from the Champions League, PAOK were drawn in the 12th group of the Europa League, along with Chelsea, Bate Borisov and Mol Vidi. The Double-headed Eagle somehow managed to lose twice to Vidi, once to Bate Borisov at the Toumba and twice to Chelsea.
The "wild" beauty of the rivalry with Ajax
Ajax, naturally, were PAOK’s opponents in the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League in the summer of 2019. The first match took place at a red hot Toumba, but the home fans found themselves frozen after just 10 minutes by a Dimitris Giannoulis own goal. However, the defender immediately made amends by providing the assist for Chuba Akpom to score the equalizer in the 32 minutes. PAOK produced an amazing performance in the first half, and quickly went in front with a goal in the 39th minute with Leo Matos scoring with a header. However, PAOK then conceded a cheap goal in the 57th minute that saved the game for the Dutch.
The second leg at the Johan Cruyff Arena was one of wild beauty, with PAOK taking a 23rd-minute lead through Diego Biseswar. The rest of the match, however, was difficult to take, with the referee taking center stage. The Dutch won a penalty, Alexandros Paschalakis saved up, however, they got another chance from the spot when another penalty was awarded in the 43rd minute. The home side were successful this time. They also won a third penalty in the 85th minute, which came before another goal in the 79th minute and the score was 3-1. Was that the end? Not quite. PAOK and Biseswar had a different point of view, stunning the entire stadium into silence in the 93rd minute when the scores became 3-2. Akpom had hit the woodwork beforehand as the visitors’ pressed for their lives. There were still a few minutes. However, those minutes seemingly evaporated and PAOK was eliminated in a very painful way.
PAOK was then called upon to face Slovan Bratislava in the playoffs of the Europa League. The task seemed easy, but the Double-headed Eagle suffered a 1-0 loss in Slovakia, conceding in added time due to a defensive mix-up. And then at the Toumba the worst case scenario was confirmed. Abel Ferreira’s team won the game 3-2, and they even had the opportunity to score a fourth goal, however the two away goals they conceded were enough to send Slovan to the groups and send the Double-headed Eagle out of Europe.
Two magical nights, and an icy affair
The pandemic brought a halt to many national championships, but the European competitions continued, albeit in the deafening silence of stadiums without supporters. In the summer of 2020, PAOK started in the 2nd qualifying round of the Champions League, with their first opponents being Besiktas. On August 25 at the Toumba, PAOK earned an emphatic 3-1 – at halftime – win, with the undisputed man-of-the-match being Christos Tzolis. The «little man» scored in the seventh and in the 24th minutes, while he also provided the assist for Dimitris Pelkas to make it 3-0, and he continued to threaten the Turkish goal in hte second half as well. Besiktas managed to reduce the arrears in the 37th minute, but that was the end of the scoring.
PAOK’s next opponent was Benfica. On September 15, 2020, in the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League, PAOK produced another astonishing European performance, especially in terms of its performance in the second half. In the 63rd minute, Dimitris Giannoulis, after a brilliant exchange with Akpom, opened the scoring, and in the 75th minute, with a lung-bursting run and assist, he gave Andrija Zivkovic the opportunity to score in a great way to make it 2-0. Everything seemed to favor a Double-headed Eagle qualification. And indeed, Silva’s late goal for Benfica in added time only served to make the final score 2-1.
Next up for PAOK it was Krasnodar. Two matches for the coveted qualification to the group stages of the Champions League remained. And this time it seemed, especially given the performances against Besiktas and Benfica, more feasible than ever. The first leg took place in Russia. PAOK’s performance was good, and although Pelkas missed a penalty in the seventh minute, he found a way to put the Double-headed Eagle ahead after 33 minutes. The Russians, however, equalized in the 39th minute, and then the match was decided in two minutes of madness. In the 68th minute, El Kaddouri hit the crossbar for PAOK, and in the 70th minute, Cabella (assisted by Berg) gave his team the victory. Obviously there were still high hopes for qualification when the return leg came around on September 30. An anxious-looking PAOK, however, found themselves behind in the 73rd minute due to an own goal by Giannis Michailidis. El Kaddouri equalized in the 77th minute, giving reasonable hopes of a comeback, but Cabella made it 2-1 again to the visitors and that was the end. And yes, the final exit was bitter. Both bitter and inglorious…
PAOK were then drawn in the fifth group of the Europa League, along with PSV Eindhoven, Granada and Omonia Nicosia. PAOK started sluggishly with a 1-1 draw at the Toumba against Omonia. On November 5 at the Toumba, however, PAOK produced a completely different display, defeating PSV 4-1, even though the Dutch had taken the lead from the penalty spot after 20 minutes. Next came a trip to the Netherlands. The Double-headed Eagle had an amazing 20 minutes, moving into a 2-0 lead, but then Eindhoven took control, turned the match around and won 3-2.
PAOK’s European adventure ended in Nicosia, because even though there was still one more match to play, PAOK fell to a 2-1 defeat. That result combined with Eindhoven’s escape from Granada with a positive result, meant that PAOK were eliminated, failing to qualify for the Round of 32 of the Europa League. The last group game at the Toumba, against Granada, was of a purely procedural nature, and the match ended 2-2.