Peter Bosz had already announced that this series of matches between Ajax and PAOK would be decided in Greece. Bosz turned out to be right, since the first match (1-1) left everything up in the air. Everything is still wide open. For Ajax, Kasper Dolberg, who scored for the first time, was golden. After the break, he erased an early PAOK lead.
The 1-1 score was a copy from six years ago when Ajax and PAOK also met in the Champions League qualifying round. At the time, the return ended in 3-3 and Ajax went on to the next round thanks to a bigger goal balance. The Amsterdam side would directly sign on for another result like that one. One thing is clear: Ajax will need to score in Thessaloniki next week.
Excited voices and faces were seen prior to Ajax – PAOK, which was the first test case of the season, and more importantly, Peter Bosz’s official debut. The coach took over from Frank de Boer last summer. His first weeks at Ajax have not all been smooth sailing, as the team is still getting used to Bosz’s intended style of play. Especially the high pressure applied early in the match will take time to master. But the last phase of the Olympique Marseille match was hopeful, as Ajax played an encouraging first half.
Ajax had to face PAOK without several key players. Nemanja Gudelj was missing due to his suspension. Riechedly Bazoer was out due to a thigh injury and Arek MIlik was left out due to his recent return to Amsterdam after playing in the European Championships. Also, Amin Younes was not yet fit to play. The German was part of the match selection and after one hour of play, he came in as a substitute.
The front line had two new faces: Mateo Cassierra as left winger and Kasper Dolberg. The latter already made his presence felt in the beginning. The striker nearly scored in the eighteenth minute, but his goal was offside. Later on, Dolberg came into a good scoring position again. He couldn’t control the ball, which landed at Jairo Riedewald’s feet. His attempt from about twenty meters out hit the crossbar, out of goalie Panagiotis Glykos’ reach.
Ajax dealt several blows in the first twenty minutes, which is why PAOK’s opening goal seemed to come out of nowhere. The Greeks took advantage of a gap in the Amsterdam defense and struck out. Ajax goalie Jasper Cillessen came far out of his goal in order to avoid problems, but he made a error in judgement. Striker Djalma Campoos scored the 0-1 goal.
This setback affected Ajax temporarily, but they struck out once more before halftime. After an amazing attack with a fantastic assist from Donny van de Beek, Anwar El Ghazi shot with his ‘weaker’ left foot into the PAOK goal, but Glykos stopped it once again.
Hard work rewarded
In the second half, Ajax came out of the starting blocks well, and it was again Dolberg who created the danger. His great header was plucked out of the upper corner by Glykos. After almost one hour of play, Dolberg’s hard work was finally rewarded. The Dane scored from about twenty meters out, and the crowd was on its feet. Dolberg joined an illustrious series of Ajax players who have scored during their debut.
It could have been even better for Dolberg, who was unstoppable for ninety minutes and caused much work on the PAOK side. A shot from the right side was sent just wide by the Dane. Ajax was cautious in the final minutes, but with their foot firmly on the gas. The score remained 1-1, and a huge job awaits Ajax in Thessaloniki.