Redemption in the finale and back to square one
In a match which PAOK completely dominated, showing perseverance and patience, as well as creating a plethora of opportunities and set-pieces, the Double-headed Eagle still needed an an own goal in the last seconds to avoid defeat by Rijeka and secure a 1-1 draw. The tie remains in the balance ahead of next Thursday’s second leg.
They say that football can punish you. PAOK was close to accepting such a fate, and indeed it would have been a harsh punishment. The Double-headed Eagle wasted a plethora of chances on the night. On the other hand, Rijeka scored from one of their only two chances. Razvan Lucescu’s team, however, despite the fact that nothing was going well for them, did not give up. The players remained faithful to the plan, played well, and fought with all their might until the end. Thankfully, their efforts were vidicated. The final 1-1 scoreline leaves a bittersweet taste in the mouth for both teams, but essentially means that nothing is decided in the tie in terms of qualifcation.
PAOK lined up with two changes in the stafrting lineup in comparison to last week’s match against Bohemians. Swiderski replaced the injured Oliveira , while Crespo returned to the starting lineup after recovering from his injury in place of Michailidis.
From the beginning, it was the home side who took control, moved the ball well and started threatening to score. Rijeka, for their part were not able to get on the offensive until after the first quarter of an hour. But when they did, Paschalakis was there in the 17th minute to make a superb diving save from a deflected shot to keep the scores level.
Up at the other end of the pitch, Kurtic and A. Zivkovic failed to find the target when presented with good chances and the score remained 0-0 until the 33rd minute. It was then when the visitors took advantage of a midfield error by PAOK and scored with a powerful shot by Lepinjica from outside the penalty area to make it 0-1. This was essentially their last attack in the game.
From there onwards, PAOK were the dominant force, with the only contradiction in their play being their chronic inefficiency in front of the opposition goal.
The hosts finished the match with 21 goal attempt, of which seven were on target. In the end, however, the final result was to be decided by the intervention of a Rijeka player.
In the last phase of play in the match, the young defender Galesic, who had come on as a substitute, accidentally directed a header from a PAOK cross into his own net and so the game at the Toumba ended without a winner.
The two teams will renew hostilities next Thursday in Croatia, where they will battle it out for a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League group stage.
PAOK (Razvan Lucescu): Paschalakis , Rodrigo (31’ Taylor ), Varela , Crespo , Vieirinha , Kurtic (90’ Esiti ), Schwab , Α.Zivkovic (72’ Koutsias ), Biseswar (72’ Murg ), El Kaddouri (90’ Kagawa ), Swiderski
Rijeka (Goran Tomic): Prskalo, Joao Escoval, Kresic, Galovic, Tomecak (72’ Busnja), Vukcevic (76’ Galesic), Lepinjica, Cerin (76’ Liber), Pavicic, Ampem, Abbas (90’ Obregon).