PAOK made the most of its home advantage and eliminated Benfica to reach the Champions League playoffs with a 2-1 triumph in Thessaloniki on Tuesday.
The one-off qualifier for the third qualifying round of the competition had the Portuguese as favorites, and they showed their superiority in the first half when they pounded PAOK with their chances and pressure. However they could not find the target.
PAOK keeper Zivko Zivkovic repeatedly had to parry the efforts of the visitors, and once he had to thank the goal frame for denying a Pizzi free-kick from going in.
The second half was a completely different game though: PAOK was much more active, mainly through counterattacks, and it was in one of those that Dimitris Giannoulis ran from the left, Chuba Akpom crossed the ball into the box back toward Giannoulis before Jan Vertonghen sent the ball into this own net on the 64th.
Andrija Zivkovic then doubled PAOK’s tally with a right-foot volley to score nine minutes after his introduction into the game against his former club.
Benfica got 15 minutes to react, but it only got a consolation goal in the fourth minute of time added-on via Rafa Silva.
The Thessaloniki club is now one step away from making it to the Champions League group stage for the first time in its history. The final hurdle, after Besiktas and Benfica, will be Krasnodar, in home-and-away games this time. The first game is next Tuesday in Russia and the return in Thessaloniki on September 29 or 30.