Ajax to play PAOK of Greece in Champions League qualifying

UEFA Deputy Secretary-General Giorgio Marchetti during the drawing of the matches for the Champions League 2019/20 third qualifying round at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Monday. (AP)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Ajax to play PAOK of Greece in Champions League qualifying

  • Ajax now start one qualifying round later — on Aug. 6 or 7

NYON, SWITZERLAND: Last season’s semifinalist Ajax will start their Champions League campaign against unbeaten Greek title winner PAOK Thessaloniki in the third qualifying round, after the draw was made Monday.

Four-time European champion Ajax began in the second preliminary round last July and was one minute from the final before being eliminated by Tottenham’s stoppage-time winning goal in May.

As the Dutch league winner, Ajax now start one qualifying round later — on Aug. 6 or 7, with the first leg in Greece — needing to beat two opponents instead of three to join the elite 32-team group stage.

However, Ajax return after selling star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona and teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus, and got the toughest possible opposition.

Ajax were the highest-ranked seeded team and PAOK were highest ranked in the pot of unseeded teams after being the only unbeaten league winner in Europe last season. Both are in the draw section just for national champions.

Porto, a two-time European champion, were paired with Krasnodar in a separate qualifying path for teams that placed second or third in higher-ranked leagues.

Also, Dynamo Kiev will face Club Brugge, and Austria’s LASK will take on either PSV Eindhoven, the 1988 European champion, or Basel.

UEFA had to intervene to keep the Russian and Ukraine teams apart and uphold a rule imposed in 2014 across all its competitions for security reasons.

Dynamo Kiev were drawn against Krasnodar, then shifted down to the next fixture slot as the away team. UEFA has separated clubs from the two countries since Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine. 

Porto were drawn next and paired with Krasnodar.

First-leg games are played Aug. 6-7, and return games on Aug. 13.

The second qualifying round has yet to be played. It begins Tuesday and will be completed on July 31.

Dutch league winners and runners-up have to enter the qualifying rounds because the country has slipped in UEFA’s rankings. Each nation is graded by its clubs’ results in European club competitions in a rolling five-year assessment.

However, Ajax’s acclaimed run to the semifinals means the Dutch title winners this season are almost certain to go directly into the Champions League group stage next year.

Ajax edged PAOK 3-2 on aggregate when the teams met in the third qualifying round three years ago.

Since then, PAOK won their first Greek title in 34 years to continue a revival during the ownership of Russian-Greek businessman Ivan Savvidis.

Greek runners-up Olympiakos, which face Viktoria Plzen in the second qualifying round, will play Turkey’s league runners-up Istanbul Basaksehir if they advance.

Teams which are eliminated in the third qualifying round transfer across to the Europa League, in either the playoff round in August or direct to the 48-team group stage in September.

In the Europa League third qualifying round draw, third-place Dutch team Feyenoord were paired with Dinamo Tbilisi or Gabala. AEK Athens, the 2018 champion of Greece, will play either Honved or Universitatea Craiova.


Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

Updated 23 August 2019
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Neymar future remains up in the air as PSG reject Madrid offer

  • Paris club said to turn down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million plus Coutinho and Rakitic

PARIS: Neymar remains no closer to getting his desired move away from Paris Saint-Germain amid reports Thursday the French club have rejected an offer from Real Madrid of €100 million($111 million) plus players.

French sports daily L’Equipe said Real had offered cash plus Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but PSG turned it down because “the overall value of the offer did not match their expectations.” 

Paris paid €222 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona two years ago and their sporting director Leonardo is understood to be determined to only sell the forward for a deal considered to be of the same value.

Real have spent the summer trying to offload Bale, while James is unwanted after returning from a loan at Bayern Munich and Navas is no longer the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Meanwhile, Barcelona remain hopeful of bringing Neymar back to the Camp Nou, but Catalan daily Sport claims an attempt to sign the player on loan with an obligation to buy for €160 million at the end of the season has been firmly rejected in Paris.

Sport claims Barcelona feel “it is very clear that PSG are trying to prevent the Brazilian from returning to the Camp Nou in any scenario.” 

PSG had previously reportedly turned down an offer from Barcelona of €40 million  plus Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic. Coutinho has since joined Bayern on loan.

Juventus are also believed to have stated an interest in signing the 27-year-old, who has not featured in any of PSG’s matches so far this season having been frozen out amid the uncertainty over his future. The transfer window closes in France, Spain and Italy on Sept. 2, meaning time is fast running out for a deal to be done.

Watford loan Sweden winger Sema to Udinese

Watford winger Ken Sema has completed a season-long loan move to Udinese, the Serie A side confirmed on Thursday.

The six-times capped Sweden international only moved to Vicarage Road last summer from Ostersunds FK and made 22 appearances for the English club.

The 25-year-old's departure follows the arrival of Senegal international Ismaila Sarr to the Premier League outfit on a club record transfer of €35 million   ($38 million) from Rennes. The northeastern Italian club and Watford are both owned by the Pozzo family.

Udinese host AC Milan in their opening match of the Serie A season on Saturday.