PAOK didn’t deserve elimination
It was a bitter evening for the family of PAOK. On football merit alone, PAOK deserved to qualify. But who is to say that the best team always advances?
AFC Ajax carved out one decent chance to score and managed to prevail 2-1. That is half the truth of what we witnessed on Wednesday. The other half? PAOK didn’t capitalize on their dominance, didn’t score more than one goal and allowed their rivals to stay alive in the tie.
The match started ideally for the Thessaloniki outfit, as they took the lead after 4 minutes of play through Stefanos Athanasiadis. PAOK captain wasted two glorious chances to increase his side’s lead, while Yevhen Shakhov also came close to scoring and “finish off” Ajax. The visitors, who didn’t create any chance to score in the first half, were thrown a lifeline just before the interval. Marin Leovac held his opponent in the box and his action was strictly punished with a penalty call. Davy Klaassen converted the spot kick, setting a different tone for the second half.
After the interval, the pace dropped, but AFC Ajax remained harmless. PAOK went once again close, when substitute Giannis Mystakidis “smelled blood”, sneaked among the Dutch defenders and his header struck the crossbar.
Everything suggested that extra time was in the cards, but AFC Ajax clinched qualification. It came out of… nothing actually. After a failed attempt to clear the ball from PAOK’s box, it landed on Klaassen’s path, with the captain of the Dutch side unleashing a powerful drive.
It’s harsh to get eliminated despite being superior to a great European club for 180 minutes. But PAOK players gave it all they had on the pitch and were rewarded with the warm applause by 27.000 spectators who were magnificent in their support. Toumba Stadium reminded us of past glorious days and that was a sweet sensation in an otherwise bitter evening.
PΑΟΚ: Glykos, Μatos, Crespo, Τzavellas, Leovac, Cimirot, Shakhov (89′ Κoulouris), Charisis (84′ Biseswar), Rodrigues (70′ Μystakidis), Campos, Αthanasiadis
AFC Ajax: Cillessen, Τete, Veltman, Riedewald, Klaassen, Westermann, Cassierra, Dolberg (63’ El Ghazi), Viergever, Gudelj, Dijks