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UCL playoff preview: Ajax, Benfica, PSV looking for group stage spot

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The Champions League is nearly back to the apex of its competition, as the final playoff round gets set for its finale and the group stage looks for its final participants. There are only six spaces left among the group stage participants, and some big-name clubs will take the field for their matchup’s second leg.

Dutch giants Ajax are in a solid position, up 3-1 over Dynamo Kiev after the home leg and now hit the road to Ukraine hoping to wrap things up on Tuesday. They have been scoring at will of late, coming off a 5-0 demolition of Eredivisie minnows FC Emmen. They have scored 20 goals over their last eight matches across all competitions, with 35-year-old Klass-Jan Huntelaar owning six of those and former Southampton man Dusan Tadic owning five.

[ MORE: 7 young players who could earn England debut ]

Kiev, meanwhile, has been quite the opposite. Through five matches in Ukranian Premier League play, Kiev has scored just five goals, but has conceded just one, sitting third in the league table with 13 points, although they have a game in hand on those above them and remain the only unbeaten team remaining in league play.

Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb and Swiss champs Young Boys are both level at 1-1 heading to the second leg in Zagreb. The home side will hope for a better start than in the first leg, when Young Boys grabbed the opener just two minutes into the match.

Also on Tuesday, Greek side AEK Athens takes a 2-1 lead back home over Hungarian club MOL Vidi.

On Wednesday, another Dutch club looks to seal up a lead, as PSV Eindhoven returns home with a 3-2 advantage over Belarusian club BATE Borisov in tow. They led 2-1 late in the first leg, and the game finished wildly as BATE equalized in the 88th minute before PSV retook the lead just a minute later. The three away goals are all massive, as is coming home with a lead of any kind. PSV has participated in the Champions League group stage in two of the last three seasons, reaching the knockout stage in 2015/16.

Portuguese giants Benfica sit in a precarious position, heading out on the road to visit Greek side PAOK with that matchup level at 1-1. Benfica held a lead on a goal just before halftime, but they conceded a scrappy away goal in the 76th minute on a set-piece.

Finally, Red Bull Salzburg hosts Red Star Belgrade after a 0-0 first leg in Serbia.

Champions League wrap: Tadic keeps Ajax rolling

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Three more playoff round first legs took focus in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, and it was another good day for two of three road teams.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL wrap ]

Ajax 3-1 Dynamo Kiev

The Dutch hosts built a 3-1 halftime lead on goals by Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, and red-hot ex-Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic.

Tadic now has four goals and three assists in seven appearances this season.

Dynamo will find some comfort in the 16th minute away goal from Tomasz Kedziora.

MOL Vidi 1-2 AEK Athens

A 23rd minute red card had the Hungarian hosts down to 10-men, and both Viktor Klonaridis and Tasos Bakasetos scored before the latter took a red of his own in the 53rd.

The artists formerly known as Videoton pulled one back through Danko Lazovic in the 68th minute.

Young Boys 1-1 Dinamo Zagreb

Ex-Newcastle and Watford man Kevin Mbabu scored a second minute goal for the Swiss side, though Mislav Orsic answered for the visitors just before halftime.

Fiorentina signs Croatia winger from Juventus

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MILAN (AP) Fiorentina has signed Croatia winger Marko Pjaca on loan from Juventus, with an option to buy.

Juventus announced in a statement on Tuesday that Fiorentina has paid 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for the loan and will pay 20 million euros ($23.2 million) if it decides to buy Pjaca at the end of the season.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 

The 23-year-old Pjaca was part of the Croatia team which reached the World Cup final in Russia last month and he came on as a substitute in that 4-2 defeat to France.

Juventus signed Pjaca from Dinamo Zagreb in 2016 but he spent last season on loan at Schalke.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Shkendija, Spartak Trnava, Dinamo Zagreb advance

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The first legs were decisive in the UEFA Champions League’s second qualifying round, with all three of Tuesday’s matches showing a path through to the clubs that entered with advantages.

[ MORE: Man City adds Zwolle back ]


Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-2 (2-7 agg.) Dinamo Zagreb

Hapoel came out of the gates with fire having been embarrassed 5-0 in the first leg, grabbing a 2-0 lead through John Ogu and Petar Stojanovic.

But Dinamo cruised to its date with the winner of Astana and Midtjylland by virtue of Mario Budimir and Izet Hajrovic goals.

Sheriff Tiraspol 0-0 (0-1 agg.) Shkendija

No goals arrived in Moldova, meaning the Macedonian visitors are in the third qualifying round of the UCL for the first time. Shkendija will next face Red Bull Salzburg.

Spartak Trnava 0-1 (2-1 agg.) Legia Warsaw

Inaki Astiz bagged the lone goal of the leg, but Slovak side Spartak Trnava held on to clinch a meeting with Red Star Belgrade or Suduva Marijampole.

Champions League wrap: Astana, Dinamo Zagreb win

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We’re still three rounds from the Premier League participants joining the UEFA Champions League fray, but the relative minnows are still in dogged pursuit of the big pay days that come from qualifying for the group stage.

[ MORE: Richarlison to Everton ]

Here are the scores from Tuesday’s second qualifying round first legs.

Astana 2-1 Midtjylland

László Kleinheisler scored twice, the second in stoppage time, as the Kazakh side overcame a second half equalizer to beat the Danish visitors. USMNT goalkeeper Bill Hamid was the goalkeeper on the bench.

CFR Cluj 0-1 Malmo

Carlos Strandberg scored the lone goal of the match, and the visitors had new American midfielder Romain Gall on the bench as an unused sub.

Dinamo Zagreb 5-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva

Two goals from Macedonian international Arijan Ademi drove the Croatians past the visiting Israeli side, who failed to find a single away goal.

Elsewhere
PAOK 2-1 Basel
Shkendija 1-0 Sheriff
Legia Warsaw 0-2 Spartak Trnava
Red Star Belgrade 3-0 Suduva