PAOK and Benfica are just two steps away from qualifying for the Champions League proper. On Tuesday night, the clubs will meet in Thessaloniki in the Champions League third qualifying round. The winner of the one-off fixture will move onto the next round. The loser will drop to the Europa League.
Greek club PAOK finished second in the Super League last term behind winners Olympiacos. PAOK will fancy their chances of getting through the playoff qualifying round after winning in the second qualifying round of the competition.
Benfica also finished as runner-up in their domestic league last season. Benfica missed out on the title as FC Porto claimed the trophy. It was down season by Benfica’s high standards in 2019-20. The club have been very active in the summer transfer market using the money they made off of Joao Felix’s sale to Atletico Madrid to rebuild the side.
These teams have recent history as they met in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League in 2018-19. Benfica went through at the expense of PAOK on that occasion. Thessaloniki isn't an easy place to go away and play. In a one-off fixture, anything can happen.
PAOK and Benfica met in the 2018-19 Champions League qualifying rounds. Benfica went through on that occasion claiming a 1-1 draw in Lisbon with both goals coming in the second half. Their trip to Thessaloniki was a success as they won 4-1. Benfica scored on both sides of halftime and won both halves.
Benfica made great use of the away goals rule in their last tie with PAOK. That rule will not be in effect against PAOK this time around. Tuesday night’s match is a one-off fixture. The winner goes onto the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
The winner of Tuesday night’s match will face one of four teams from the league path. Possible opponents include Dynamo Kiev, AZ Alkmaar, Gent, Rapid Wien, and Krasnodar.
Benfica are yet to begin their Portuguese domestic season. PAOK kicked off their league season last weekend with a 1-0 win against AE Larissa. Christos Tzolis’s first-half goal stood up for the win. PAOK began the Champions League in the first qualifying round. They defeated Besiktas to reach the tie with Benfica. That game ended 3-1. Benfica are heading to a venue that could see them lose to a good Greek side.
Jorge Jesus returned to the bench of Benfica in the offseason. He originally coached the club between 2009 and 2015. After being relieved of his duties five years ago, Jesus went across town and coaching Sport Lisbon in a controversial move. After leaving there, Jesus popped up at Al-Hilal and Flamengo. Now, back at Benfica, it is hoped that Jesus can lead the team back to the top of Portuguese football.
It isn’t just winning the domestic title that the club want. Benfica have not been great in the Champions League in recent years. There is a desire to get back into the group stages and knockout rounds of the tournament. Jesus has been given an open cheque book to sign players. Over €70 million worth of players have been brought into the club.
Two forwards, Everton Soares and Darwin Nunez, could be tasked with Benfica’s goalscoring. Meanwhile, midfielder Luca Waldschmidt arrived from Germany’s Freiburg in an exciting deal. Playing at Benfica will be a big step-up for the German.
PAOK have signed three players on transfers this offseason. Stefan Schwab joined from Rapid Wien while Nika Ninua came from Dinamo Tbilisi. The club also added Viking defender Adrien Pereira. Compared to Benfica’s big money spends, PAOK’s work in the market has been a drop in the bucket.
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PAOK and Benfica met in the Champions League qualifying rounds in 2018-19 and this year’s tie should be similar to the first leg when they met two seasons ago. Being a one-off tie, Tuesday’s game should be a close, cagey affair. Their first leg meeting in 2018 finished 1-1. Although the second match was a 4-1 win for Benfica, the away goals rule doesn’t apply this time and PAOK won’t need to chase the game, exposing their defence.
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Although PAOK won 3-1 against Besiktas in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, this game should be closer. Benfica are a step up in quality. Benfica doesn’t have the fitness that PAOK do going into the game. The Greeks have played twice already, while Benfica are yet to play. The lack of fitness could keep Benfica’s attack from firing on all cylinders.
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Tuesday’s game could end in a stalemate. There is no away goals rule and a 1-1 draw, or draw of any kind, would send these teams to extra-time and possibly penalties. It is likely that Benfica’s quality would rise to the top if these sides play in extra-time.
Since the 1999-2000 season, PAOK and Benfica have met six times in all competitions. Four of those matches came in the Europa League while the most recent two fixtures were in Champions League qualifying. The clubs do have history. Benfica have lost just one game against PAOK all time. That game came in the Europa League in 1999-2000, 2-1. That fixture was a lifetime ago, however.
The teams’ qualifying matches from 2018-19 should have more of a reflection on what we will see this week. Benfica have not played a competitive match yet. PAOK have played twice in the league and Champions League second qualifying round. Their fitness and sharpness should be an equaliser.
In the end, Benfica should qualify for the playoff qualifying round of the Champions League. They should squeeze by the Greeks and may need extra-time to do it. Expect a close, low-scoring game.
POAK vs Benfica kicks-off at 19:00 on Tuesday 15 September in the Champions League qualification stage.
The Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki, Greece will host this Champions League qualification match between POAK and Benfica.