Belgrade: Former European champions Ajax Amsterdam were held to a 2-2 draw at PAOK in the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie while Red Star Belgrade could only manage a 1-1 home draw against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.
Azeri champions Qarabag took a big step towards the play-off round with a 2-1 win at Cypriot side APOEL but Dinamo Zagreb left their progress hanging in the balance after the Croats played out a 1-1 home draw against Hungary’s Ferencvaros.
A Hans Vaneken penalty late in the first half gave Bruges a 1-0 home win against Dynamo Kiev.
Last season’s semi-finalists Ajax, who have won Europe’s premier club competition four times, made a perfect start in the cauldron of PAOK’s Tumba stadium when Hakim Ziyech curled in a swerving free kick after 10 minutes.
Roared on by a fervent home crowd, PAOK turned the tide before halftime when striker Chuba Akpom capped a flowing move with a fine finish from 10 metres and defender Leo Matos headed home a Diego Biseswar free kick.
Ajax, who suffered a last-gasp defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in last season’s semis, piled on the pressure after the break and Ziyech missed a glaring chance before substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar equalised with a bizarre goal on the hour.
Fernando Varela’s poor clearance from Donny van de Beek’s cross rebounded off the 35-year old striker’s feet into the back of the net from close range and the visitors then dominated until the final whistle.
Red Star, the 1991 champions, conceded a late equaliser after their striker Milan Pavkov reaffirmed his reputation for scoring in big games just before the break, only to be forced off the pitch at halftime by a recurring hamstring injury.
Pavkov, who netted twice in last season’s memorable 2-0 home win over eventual Champions League winners Liverpool in the group stage, fired Red Star ahead in the 44th minute when he hooked a loose ball over keeper Sten Michael Grytebust.
Pavkov made way for Richmond Boakye and the hosts were punished in the closing stages for the Ghanaian’s forward’s second-half profligacy.
Boakye missed a pair of gilt-edged chances to double Red Star’s lead before midfielder Dusan Jovancic fouled Copenhagen substitute Mas Jaume in the penalty area and Jonas Wind coolly converted the 84th-minute spot kick.
PAOK (GRE) 2 Ajax (NED) 2
APOEL (CYP) 1 Qarabag (AZE) 2
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) 1 Ferencvaros (HUN) 1
Club Brugge (BEL) 1 Dynamo Kiev (UKR) 0Red Star Belgrade (SRB) 1 FC Copenhagen (DEN) 1