It was far from comfortable but Ajax will face APOEL Nicosia for a place in the Champions League group stages after they defeated PAOK Salonika 3-2 on Tuesday evening. Ajax progresses 5-4 on aggregate.

Erik ten Hag decided to name the same eleven that defeated Emmen 5-0 at the weekend, with Dusan Tadic through the middle and Joel Veltman taking his place in the centre of defence. Kasper Dolberg was not even on the bench with Ten Hag confirming it was for tactical reasons.

With the game poised at 2-2 from the first-leg, both sides went into the tie knowing a win would see them book their place in the playoff round.

Donny van de Beek got Ajax’s best two chances in the opening ten minutes but he could not pass Alexandros Paschalakis in the PAOK goal. At the other end, a quick counter ended with Chuba Akpom firing a good chance over the bar. Andre Onana was then forced into a good save to deny Dimitros Pelkas.

In the 23rd minute, PAOK stunned the home crown and took the lead when the ball was chested into the path of Diego Biseswar on the edge of the area and he fired past a rooted Onana.

Ajax went looking for an equaliser and got the perfect opportunity to net it when David Neres was pushed over in the box. Tadic stepped up but his penalty was kept out by Paschalakis.

The PAOK goalkeeper was in excellent form but finally, he was beaten in the 43rd minute. A handball by Biseswar was spotted by the referee and this time, Tadic made no mistake from the spot to make it 1-1.

Ten Hag made a change at the break with Sergino Dest coming in for Ravzan Marin, which saw Mazraoui move into midfield. Ajax dominated the early stages of the second half and Paschalakis had to make an excellent fingertip save to deny Ziyech, whose curling effort was heading for the top corner.

PAOK remained dangerous on the counter, though, and Ajax were lucky that nobody was able to tap in Biseswar’s excellent cross in the 53rd minute.

The game remained close with both sides looking dangerous and eventually Ten Hag turned to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who replaced Neres. A few minutes later it was 2-1 for the hosts with a Ziyech corner headed in at the back post by Nicolas Tagliafico.

Six minutes later, Ajax were awarded their third penalty of the evening after Tagliafico was pushed to the ground. Tadic stepped up again and made it 3-1 from the spot.

PAOK didn’t give up and Biseswar pulled one back deep into injury time but that proved to be nothing but a consolation.

Ajax will now face APOEL Nicosia, who defeated Qarabag earlier in the evening. The first leg takes place in Cyprus next week with the return in Amsterdam a week later.




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