It simply was not meant to be for PAOK. Even though everything was on their side, they were playing in front of their hungry fans, they had the 1-1 result from the first game in Da Luz and they managed to find an early goal against Benfica, they just could not overcome the difference in quality that separated the two teams.
When it all came down to it, Rui Patricio’s men had the experience to survive the situation and not only qualify, but also triumph over Racvan Lucescu’s side, scoring three goals before the break. PAOK’s coach was fortunate enough not to have his players face any injuries or suspensions, so he was able to use his most favourable line-up, in contrast to Benfica who were missing one of their key strikers in Jonas.
The crowd had filled up the stands in the Toumba stadium from early on, creating a great atmosphere in anticipation for the game and the team’s players rewarded them with an early goal in the 13th minute, after a great combination between Pelkas, Mauricio and Vieirinha saw the ball land on the feet of Prijovic, who simply laid it to rest in the back of Vlachodimos’ net.
But that goal just seerved as a wake-up call for Benfica, as the team immediately begun to pile on the pressure on the home side. Their efforts paid off just seven minutes later, after a corner kick saw Jardel beat the PAOK defenders to the ball and equalise for the Portuguese team.
If that wasn’t enough, a lethal error from PAOK goalkeeper Paschalakis on the 26th awarded Benfica a penalty kick, which Salvio converted. Pizzi found a goal in injury time of the first half as well, after a nice combination from the Benfica team.
The dream had begun to turn into a nightmare for the “black-and-white’s” and the second half seemed like an uphill battle while their opponents had all the confidence they needed to go out and finish the job. And finish it they did, as they scored again from the penalty spot, after yet another Benfica corner kick, PAOK defender Varela brought down Jardel in the box. Salvio made sure to punish this mistake as well, giving his team a triumphant win as they move on to the Champions League group stage, a place that has begun to seem like an unreachable dream for PAOK.
This result sees them move on to the Europa League group stage and it means that the only representative from Greece in the main European football competition will be AEK (after they knocked out Videoton on Tuesday).
Despite this result equalising the heaviest home defeat in the history of the club, PAOK coach Racvan Lucescu stated that his players need to be proud for all they have accomplished in this qualifying campaign, having seen through opposition who were greater than them (FC Basel, Spartak Moscow) and reaching greater heights.