Ajax face awkward Champions qualifier against PAOK - GulfToday

Ajax face awkward Champions qualifier against PAOK


PSV Eindhoven’s players take part in a training session ahead of their Champions League second qualifying round against Basel. Agence France-Presse

NYON: Last season’s semifinalist Ajax will start their Champions League campaign against unbeaten Greek title winner PAOK Thessaloniki in the third qualifying round, after the draw was made on Monday.

Four-time European champion Ajax began in the second preliminary round last July and was one minute from the final before being eliminated by Tottenham’s stoppage-time winning goal in May.

As the Dutch league winner, Ajax now starts one qualifying round later - on Aug.6 or 7, with the first leg in Greece - needing to beat two opponents instead of three to join the elite 32-team group stage.

However, Ajax returns after selling star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona and teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus, and got the toughest possible opposition.

Ajax were the highest-ranked seeded team and PAOK was highest ranked in the pot of unseeded teams after being the only unbeaten league winner in Europe last season. Both are in the draw section just for national champions. Porto, a two-time European champion, was paired with Krasnodar in a separate qualifying path for teams that placed second or third in higher-ranked leagues.

Also, Dynamo Kiev will face Club Brugge, and Austria’s LASK will take on either PSV Eindhoven, the 1988 European champion, or Basel.

UEFA had to intervene to keep the Russian and Ukraine teams apart and uphold a rule imposed in 2014 across all its competitions for security reasons.

Dynamo Kiev was drawn against Krasnodar, then shifted down to the next fixture slot as the away team. UEFA has separated clubs from the two countries since Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine. Porto was drawn next and paired with Krasnodar.

First-leg games are played Aug.6-7, and return games on Aug.13.

The second qualifying round has yet to be played. It begins Tuesday and will be completed on July 31. Dutch league winners and runners-up have to enter the qualifying rounds because the country has slipped in UEFA’s rankings.


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