PAOK's Jasmin Kurtic, right, celebrates after scoring the opening goal of his team during the Europa Conference League, round of 16, first leg, soccer match between PAOK FC and KAA Gent at Toumba stadium, in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
THESSALONIKI – With the usual suspect Jasmin Kurtic getting on the scoresheet again via a direct free-kick, PAOK defeated Ghent 1-0 and took an important first step to qualify for the last eight of the 2021-22 UEFA Europa Conference League.
Razvan Lucescu had anticipated from the eve of the match that his players were full of desire and were perfectly focused for the game. A similar approach from the previous tie with the Danes. And the result? A game of quality football at the Toumba Stadium, with plenty of tactical battkes, intensity, passion and PAOK coming up with a big win.
The visitors tried to surprise the home side in the first few minutes by pushing high up the pitch, attempting to pinch possession at every opportunity and threaten. HOwever, they ploy failed. PAOK, for their part, were determined and patient, managing to bring the match into the balance and then they began to threaten the visitors’ goal.
The first half ended without many opportunities for either side, with Chuba Akpom’s 26th-minute shot that was saved well by opposing goalkeeper Roef the main highlight.In the second half, PAOK came out stronger and looked to take the lead.
The hosts had two good chances with a shot by Lefteris Lyratzis and a header by Akpom, before Kurtic finally broke the deadlock in the 58th minute. The opposing coach had marked Kurtic out for special attention from the beginning and manahed – by and large – to take him out of the game. But when there was a set-piece chance just outside the penalty area, the visitors could not do anything about it.
The Slovenian executed a trademark effort on goal, and the ball found the back of the net via a deflection off a Gent defender.From that point on, PAOK remained in control of the going, showing solidity in defense and not allowing the visitors the chance to threaten the home goal. The result was that PAOK closed out the match, holding firmly to their 1-0 advantage until the final whistle.
And so PAOK got what they wanted from the first leg, an advantage to protect in view of the second leg in seven days. Things may be tougher for PAOK in that match, since Kurtic and A. Zivkovic will miss the game through suspension after both players were booked in this match and reached their yellow card limits.
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