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July 23, 2019

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Ajax faces awkward UCL qualifier against PAOK

Last season’s UEFA Champions League semifinalist Ajax was yesterday drawn to face Greek champion PAOK Thessaloniki in the third qualifying round for this year’s group stages.

The Dutch side does not get automatic entry into the group stages of the competition despite winning the Eredivisie for the 34th time and coming within seconds of reaching the UCL final.

If it beats PAOK, Erik ten Hag’s team will still need to win a playoff to join the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus in the main competition.

It is not the easiest of ties for Ajax which has already lost several players from its exciting young squad.

Central defender Matthijs de Ligt has left for Juventus while midfielder Frenkie de Jong has joined Barcelona.

PAOK went unbeaten on its way to winning the Greek Super League, finishing five points ahead of Olympiakos for its first league title in over three decades.

The first leg will be played at PAOK’s Toumba Stadium on August 6 or 7 with the return in Amsterdam a week later.

Olympiakos, which faces Viktoria Plzen in the second qualifying round, will play Turkey’s league runner-up Istanbul Basaksehir if it advances.

Two-time European champion Porto, which finished two points behind champion Benfica in Portugal, will face Krasnodar, which finished third in Russia while Belgian runner-up Club Brugge will meet its Ukrainian counterpart Dynamo Kiev.

If Scottish champion Celtic beats Estonia’s Nomme Kalju in the second round of qualifying, it will face either Romania’s Cluj or Maccabi Tel-Aviv of Israel.


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