PAOK make life difficult for themselves
PAOK made a bad start to the game well in Bulgaria and found themselves two goals down within the first 20 minutes. The Double-headed Eagle players battled back and balanced the game out, but could not find the goals to change the result, and now the black and whites must turn things around in the second leg at the Toumba next week if they are to progress to the 3rd qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
PAOK’s problems started before the kick-off, with Adelino Vieirinha , who was selected to start the game on the right side of defence, felt some discomfort in his midriff area in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Sastre.
Razvan Lucescu chose to throw five new faces into the fray with Kotarski, Kargas, Rafa Soares, Dantas and Quagliata all starting alongside the «oldboys» of Ingason, Sastre, Douglas, Schwab, Koutsias and A.Zivkovic.
PAOK paid their first penalty of the match after just 41 seconds when Welton got behind the visiting defense and beat Kotarski with a lob to make it 1-0.
PAOK tried to react, pressing high up the pitch and keeping the ball, and there was a good chance for Schwab in the eighth minute, but his shot was stopped by Mihaylov, and then in the 19th minute the hosts punished the visitors again. Milanov made a forward run and passed to Bari, who fired in a shot on the move to make it 2-0.
From then on, the Bulgarians gave the ball to PAOK and aimed solely to defend, remaining in their own half until the end of the match, looking only to try and break on the counterattack.
The Double-headed Eagle came close to a goal in the 31st minute with Kargas sending the ball narrowly past the Levski post with a header, and the scoreline remained unchanged as the teams disappeared into the dressing rooms at half-time.
In the second half, PAOK dominated, controlled the ball, but also found it very difficult to create chances against the multi-faceted and well-drilled defense of the Bulgarians. Lucescu brought on several substitutes from the bench, with Narey and Brandon making their official debuts for the club.
But essentially, PAOK only really threatened in the last 15 minutes, with Kurtic’s cross in the 84th minute being the highlight, but neither Brandon nor Filipe Soares were able to send the ball into the net.
The final whistle found Levski celebrating a 2-0 win and taking a substantial lead in the tie, with Lucescu’s side now needing what would be an upset if they are to continue their European journey in the 2022-23 season.
Levski: Mihaylov, Petris, Sundberg, Cordoba, Galchev, Krastef, Van der Kaap, Milanov, Ronaldo (87′ Petkov), Welton (93′ Mitkov), Bari (90′ Holder).