Ajax dealt tricky UCL playoff after last season’s heartache

Last season’s Champions League semifinalists 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.

Draw for Champions League third qualifying round:

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)

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

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