90 minutes separate 12 clubs from the much-desired Champions League group stage. However, there are only 6 spots and the unlucky teams will have to settle for UEFA Europa League instead. So how did the teams fare in the first legs and who will go further?
Salzburg vs. Crvena Zvezda (0-0 on aggregate)
Red Bull Zagreb enjoyed more possession in Belgrade but the hosts were more threatening up front. However, neither of the teams managed to hit the back of the net, postponing the climax for Austria.
PSV vs. BATE (3-2 on aggregate)
The clash in Belarus was by far the most entertaining game of the play-off stage. BATE stunned the Dutch champions with a powerful start before Tuominen opened the scoring 9 minutes into the match. The referee awarded a dubious penalty and Gaston Pereiro leveled from the spot. Mexico star Hirving Lozano netted a beautiful curling shot midway through the second half but veteran Alexander Hleb scored a late equalizer on minutes 88. However, the hosts showed some complacency and allowed PSV to score a winner in their first attack from the kick-off a minute later. It wasn’t an easy game for the favorites but three goals on the road all but guarantee promotion.
PAOK vs. Benfica (1-1 on aggregate)
Pizzi scored from the spot to put Benfica in front at Estadio da Luz in the added time of the first half. However, the Egyptian Amr Warda leveled the score after coming off the bench in the second half. Benfica dominated in the game but failed to score a winner and got into a tricky situation ahead of a visit to Greece.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Young Boys (1-1 on aggregate)
Mbabu scored two minutes into the game, putting Young Boys ahead in the first leg. However, Croatian champions fought back to cancel the opener as Orsic leveled late in the first half. Fans can expect an entertaining return leg at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb.
AEK Athens vs. Vidi (2-1 on aggregate)
Vidi midfield Huszti saw a red card in the middle of the first half, making a difficult job of beating AEK even harder. The Greek side responded with two goals from Klonaridis and Bakasetas. The latter probably got carried away and was sent off four minutes after his goal. The hosts were happy to play against 10 men as Lazovic gave them hope in the 67th minute. AEK are favorites before the return leg, although Hungarian side have a small chance, too.
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Ajax (1-3 on aggregate)
Van de Beek opened the scoring 2 minutes into the first leg in Amsterdam before Kedziora equalized on minutes 15. Dutch giants proved their status before the break with two goals from Ziyech and Tadic to put Ajax 3-1 ahead before the return leg in Ukraine. Dynamo will need to score twice and keep a clean sheet to make it to the group stage.
Neither of the teams has lost a chance to qualify for Europe's main club tournament after the first legs and I am expecting another two great nights of relentless competition for the group stage.