The dream continues…
PAOK exorcised one of its ‘demons’ at the Toumba stadium on Tuesday night, defeating the mighty Benfica 2-1 to earn a place in the Play Offs of the UEFA Champions League, where they will face Krasnodar in a two-legged tie to which will decide who wins the prize of a place among the ‘stars’ in the group stage.
An excellent PAOK side looked their Portuguese opponents between the eyes and produced a determined and clever display. The home side hit the visitors where it hurts when they were given the opportunities to earn a historic qualification, against a team who have eliminated PAOK on two previous ocassions.
PAOK began the match strongly, trying to surprise Jorge Jesus’ team, but the hosts did not manage to get an early goal. From the 10th minute onwards, the Portguese gained control of the game and dominated possession for long spells, while also missing several good chances to open the scoring, and also hit the post through Pizzi’s direct free-kick as the Double-headed Eagle’s defence lead by Zivko Zivkovic held firm.
After soaking up that first-half pressure, Ferreira’s team began to threaten more in the second half as they went in search of a goal. Zivkovic then made a great save from Everton when clean through on goal after 57 minutes in what proved to be one of the key moments of the match. Shortly afterwards, on 65 minutes, Dimitris Giannoulis surged forward impressively before releasing Akpom , and the Englishman in turn got to the byline before squaring the ball perfectly for onrushing PAOK defender to prod the ball home with a little help from Benfica defender Vertongen.
After the goal, the Double-headed Eagle stuck to their game place, and doubled the advantage on 75 minutes. Andrija Zivkovic , who came off the bench during the second half, hurt his former teammates with a composed finish from Giannoulis’ to make it 2-0.
The Portguese peppered the PAOK penalty area with crosses and passes in the closing minutes, with Zivkovic making two more good saves before he was finally beaten four minutes into added time by Rafa Silva’s header. That proved the final goal of the night, however, and PAOK were able to celebrate a historic qualification in the finale.
PAOK has one more obstacle to overcome in their journey to reach the group stages of the Champions League. FC Krasnodar will be the club’s opponents in the Play Offs, with a two-legged tie awaiting.
Benfica (Jesus): Vlachodimos, Almeida, Ruben Dias, vertongen, Grimaldo, Weigle, Pizzi, Tarabt, (78’ Rafa Silva), Everton, Pendrino (65’ Nunies), Seferovic (72’ Vinicius).