Ajax dealt tricky Champions League playoff after last season's heartache

August 06, 2019
Ajax Amsterdam’s players celebrate after winning the Dutch Super Cup football final match between Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. — AFP
Ajax Amsterdam’s players celebrate after winning the Dutch Super Cup football final match between Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. — AFP

NYON, Switzerland —Last season's Champions League semi-finalists Ajax will take on either Qarabag or Apoel Nicosia in this year's playoff for the group stage if they find a way past PAOK Thessaloniki in the third qualifying round of the showcase European club competition.

The Dutch side do not get automatic entry to the groups despite winning the Eredivisie for the 34th time and coming within seconds of reaching the final of last season's campaign.

It is not the easiest of ties for Ajax who have already lost several players from their exciting young squad, with central defender Matthijs de Ligt at Juventus and midfielder Frenkie de Jong joining Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

First, however, they have to see off PAOK, who went unbeaten on their way to winning the Greek Super League, finishing five points ahead of Olympiakos as they claimed their first league title in more than three decades.

The first leg of the third round in Greece takes place on Tuesday, with the return leg seven days later in Amsterdam. The playoff ties will be held on 20/21 and 27/28 August.

Two-time European champions Porto will face either Istanbul Basaksehir or Olympiakos if they beat Krasnodar, while Slavia Prague await the winners of CFR Cluj and 1967 European champions Celtic.

Red Star Belgrade, who won the competition in 1991, will face Swiss outfit Young Boys if they beat FC Copenhagen.

In the Europa League draw, Torino and Wolverhampton Wanderers will meet up in the pick of the playoff ties if they get past Belarusian side Shakhtyor and Armenians Pyunik.

Flamboyant Wolves are in Europe for the first time in 39 years after finishing seventh in the Premier League in their first year following promotion.

Torino meanwhile, who also finished seventh but in Serie A, qualified for the competition after AC Milan accepted in June a voluntary ban from European football for the coming season over breaches of financial fair play rules.

Roma took fifth-placed Milan's place in the group stages, opening up a preliminary round spot for Walter Mazzarri's side, who impressed in the second half of last season.

The Europa League draw also includes sides from the Champions League draw, who will drop into the lower ranked competition should they lose their third qualifying round matches.

Draw for Champions League playoff round (first legs August 20/21, second legs August 27/28):

Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) or Ferencvaros (HUN) v Maribor (SVN) or Rosenborg (NOR)

CFR Cluj (ROM) or Celtic (SCO) v Slavia Prague (CZE)

Young Boys (SUI) v Red Star Belgrade (SRB) or FC Copenhagen (DEN)

Apoel Nicosia (CYP) or Qarabag (AZE) v PAOK Thessaloniki (GRE) or Ajax (NED)

Basel 1893 (SUI) or LASK (AUT) v Club Brugge (BEL) or Dynamo Kiev (UKR)

Istanbul Basaksehir (TUR) or Olympiakos v Krasnodar (RUS) or Porto (POR)

Draw for Europa League playoff round (first legs August 22, second legs August 29):

Maccabi Tel Aviv (ISR) or FK Suduva (LTU) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) or Ferencvaros (HUN)

Red Star Belgrade (SRB) or FC Copenhagen (DEN) v Riga FC (LVA) or HJK Helsinki (FIN)

CFR Cluj (ROU) or Celtic (SCO) v FC Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA) or AIK (SWE)

Ararat-Armenia (ARM) or Saburtalo (GEO) v F91 Dudelange (LUX) or Nomme Kalju FC (EST)

Ludogorets (BUL) or The New Saints (WAL) v NK Maribor (SLO) or Rosenborg (NOR)

Sutjeska (MNE) or Linfield (NIR) v Apoel Nicosia (CYP) or Qarabag (AZE)

Slovan Bratislava (SVK) or Dundalk (IRL) v PAOK Thessaloniki (GRE) or Ajax (NED)

FC Astana (KAZ) or Valletta FC (MLT) v FK Sarajevo (BIH) or FC BATE Borisov (BLR)

Torino (ITA) or Shakhtyor (BLR) v Pyunik (ARM) or Wolves (ENG)

Universitatea Craiova (ROM) or AEK Athens (GRE) v AC Sparta Praha (CZE) or Trabzonspor (TUR)

Legia Warsaw (POL) or Atromitos (GRE) v Midtjylland (DEN) or Rangers (SCO)

Feyenoord (NED) or Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v IFK Norrköping (SWE) or Hapoel Beer-Shev (ISR)

FCSB (ROM) or Mlada Boleslav (CZE) v Ventspils (LAT) or Guimaraes (POR)

AEK Larnaca (CYP) or Gent (BEL) v HNK Rijeka (CRO) or Aberdeen FC (SCO)

Haugesund (NOR) or PSV (NED) v Austria Vienna (AUT) or Apollon Limassol (CYP)

Luzern (SUI) or Espanyol (ESP) v CSKA Sofia (BUL) or Zorya Luhansk (UKR)

Partizan Belgrade (SRB) or Malatyaspor (TUR) v Molde (NOR) or Aris Thessaloniki (GRE)

Brondby (DEN) or Braga (POR) v Thun (SUI) or Spartak Moscow (RUS)

Malmo (SWE) or HSK Zrinjski (BIH) v Neftci (AZE) or Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv (ISR)

Lokomotiv Plovdiv (BUL) or Strasbourg (FRA) v Vaduz (LIE) or Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)

Mariupol (UKR) or AZ Alkmaar (NED) v Royal Antwerp (BEL) or Viktoria Plizen (CZE). — AFP

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