Ajax on Tuesday reached the UEFA Champions League playoffs after seeing off PAOK Thessaloniki 3-2 in a tense encounter in Amsterdam that saw last year’s semi-finalists through 5-3 on aggregate.
A Dusan Tadic penalty in each half and Nicolas Tagliafico’s late header were enough to give Erik ten Hag’s side a chance to make the group stage and relive the dream of last season, when they seduced Europe with a thrilling run to the last four.
Serb Tadic, who had already missed once from the spot for Ajax, scored the equalizer two minutes before the break after Diego Biseswar had silenced the Johan Cruijff Arena with a fine strike for PAOK midway through the half.
Tagliafico left the Greek side needing to score twice to go through with 11 minutes to go when he met Ziyech’s corner with a powerful header, and shortly after Tadic ensured a playoff clash with APOEL Nicosia before next month’s group stage, despite Biseswar’s stoppage-time strike.
APOEL are to face the Dutch giants after overturning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to win 2-0 at Qarabag thanks to goals from Tomas de Vincenti and Urosh Matich.
Elsewhere, former European champions Porto, Celtic and Red Star Belgrade were dumped out with defeats to Krasnodar, CFR Cluj and FC Copenhagen respectively, with the Glasgow outfit sent to the UEFA Europa League 5-4 on aggregate after losing a thrilling encounter 4-3 at Celtic Park.
Meanwhile, Porto found their 1-0 first leg lead wiped out as Russian side Krasnodar scored three times in 33 minutes to take control of the tie.
The two-time kings of Europe pulled level on aggregate in the second half thanks to goals from Ze Luis and Luis Diaz, but could not find the winner, despite having 25 shots, and exited the competition on away goals.
Red Star fell to a 7-6 penalty shoot-out defeat that featured 19 spot-kicks, after the Serbs could not be separated from their Danish opponents over two legs.
Club Brugge squeezed through following a dramatic 3-3 draw at Dynamo Kiev that saw three late goals — including two in stoppage time — scored and each side finish with 10 men as the Belgian side made it to the playoffs 4-3 on aggregate.