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Ajax hold off determined PAOK comeback

PAOK FC 3-3 AFC Ajax (agg: 4-4, Ajax win on away goals)
As Ajax breathed a collective sigh of relief, the Greek side were left to rue what might have been after falling short in a topsy-turvy tie.

Luis Suárez was again on target for Ajax
Luis Suárez was again on target for Ajax ©vuurstphoto

AFC Ajax survived a major scare in Greece as they edged through to the UEFA Champions League play-offs following a thrilling 3-3 draw with a PAOK FC side left to wonder what might have been.

Ajax took an early lead in last week's first leg before being pegged back and the roles were initially reversed in Salonika as Vieirinha's header put the hosts in front. It remained that way at half-time, but within ten minutes of the restart goals from Luis Suárez, Siem de Jong and Rasmus Lindgren had turned this third qualifying round tie on its head. The salvo left PAOK needing three goals – they managed two, Vladimir Ivić also missing a penalty.

The relief among the Ajax players at full time was palpable, and they knew they were in for a stiff examination from the off in north-west Greece. Maarten Stekelenburg had already denied Dimitris Salpingidis when Vieirinha struck and the visitors struggled to prise an opening. They did not need to, a series of defensive lapses allowing Suárez to turn things around, scoring himself then teeing up De Jong to make it 2-1 on the night.

Lindgren earned more breathing space when his free-kick found its way past Dario Krešić, but back came PAOK. Salpingidis made it 3-2, and it looked set for a grandstand finish when Vurnon Anita brought down Anis Boussaidi 13 minutes from time. Hero of the first leg, Ivić failed to beat Stekelenburg from the spot – his 91st-minute equaliser was all too late.

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