SPORTS

Happy end for PAOK, who makes Champions League

PAOK snatched the ticket for the Champions League qualifiers in the very last round of the Super League playoffs thanks to its 2-1 win at PAS Giannina and the goalless draw between Atromitos and Asteras Tripolis on Sunday.

In what was by far the most dramatic playoff mini-league in the Super League, the second Greek spot in the Champions League – after Olympiakos – went down to the wire.

Atromitos had the golden opportunity to play in the qualifying rounds of Europe’s top club competition for the first time in its history as it only had to beat third-placed Asteras at Peristeri, but the two teams canceled each other out in the end.

The heartbreak is greater for Atromitos given that it also played the last quarter of the game in front of a capacity crowd at home with a man’s advantage, due to the second yellow card show to Papa Khalifa Sankare of Asteras. The 0-0 result eventually left Atromitos with the second spot in the playoffs and the third overall, one place above Asteras.

PAOK redeemed its season and calmed things down in what was a roller-coaster ride for the team and its fans in this mesmerizing playoff tournament.

The Thessaloniki stared at the possibility of finishing last in the playoffs up to the 70th minute, as it was trailing from the first half with the Tomas De Vincenti penalty from the 33rd minute.

However, the great game that Lino played and the introduction of Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis after the interval changed the game in the visitor’s favor.

From two consecutive Lino freekicks, Costas Katsouranis equalized in the 70th minute, and Gordon Schildenfeld added the winner four minutes later with a spectacular left-foot volley that gave PAOK victory at Ioannina, revenge for PAS’s win at Toumba and above all the all-important ticket to the third qualifying round of the Champions League in late July.

PAOK finished the playoffs with 13 points, ahead of Atromitos with 11, Asteras with nine and PAS with seven. Atromitos, Asteras and PAS will represent Greece in the Europa League next season, starting with PAS playing in Europe – for the first time – from early next month. The Ioannina team will find out its opponent in Europe on June 24.

The draw for PAOK will take place on July 19, with its opponent likely being one of Lyon, Zenit St Petersburg, PSV Eindhoven, Metalist and Fenerbahce.