JANE BARLOW / AP
Cluj coach Dan Petrescu celebrated after his player knocked out Celtic in the Champions League.
Last season, the Ajax Champions League semi-finalists came close to losing in qualifying on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), coming behind to beat PAOK Thessaloniki 5-4 together.
On the night when former European champions Porto and Celtic were knocked out, Ajax faced elimination when their former youth player Diego Biseswar scored on PAOK in the 23rd minute to put the Greek team 3-2 ahead overall.
Ajax captain Dusan Tadic saw one save save, but scored another to equalize. Nicolas Tagliafico's header finally led the Dutch team in the 79th minute, before PAOK's rough, physical style gave Ajax a third penalty turned by Tadic.
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Biseswar scored again for a stoppage time to put Ajax in danger again, but the Dutch champions held on to win. PAOK players and staff surrounded the referee to protest after the final whistle.
"It was a tough night. I'm glad we arrived in the end, but don't ask me how," said Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek. "It's a very tough team to play against."
In the play-offs, the last stage of qualifying, Ajax faces a possibly easier task against Cyprus-based APOEL, who beat Azerbaijani Qarabag 3-2 overall.
The fact that Ajax even had to play skilled has triggered a debate on UEFA rules, which mainly favor less-built teams from large countries, not just high, lower-performing teams from smaller countries.
Ajax's place in the qualifying rounds has been downgraded to the Dutch league, despite their heroes last season. By contrast, Italy's strong record means that Atalanta get a place in the group stage of the Champions League, although it has never played in a competition before.
Otherwise, Porto beat the away goals of FC Krasnodar Russia after receiving three in the first half. At 3-3, the Portuguese team threw the players forward in search of the winning goal, but a decisive defense kept the Russians ahead. They will face Olympiacos for a place in the group stage.
Romania's CFR Cluj scored two late goals against the Celtics to win 4-3 and 5-4 after Glasgow, while the former Red Star champions went through a marathon penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw. .
The Red Star and FC Copenhagen each took 11 penalties a minute before Jonas Wind's miss sent the Serbian team. Wind and Red Star coach Radovan Pankov took two penalties each time in the shootout as the Red Star finished the game with 10 men.
Former regular group stage players Dynamo Kiev lost in qualifying for the third year in a row, losing a total of 4: 3 to Bruges.
So did Dinamo Zagreb, LASK Linz and Rosenborg.