Celtic, Ajax face uphill battles for survival
© AFP

Celtic and Ajax are in danger of seeing their UEFA Champions League push end before it has barely commenced after both endured nightmare starts to their qualifying campaigns.

Celtic, with Neil Lennon taking charge of his first European tie, saw his Scottish side slump to a 3-0 defeat to Sporting Braga in Portugal in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie. Ajax, four-time winners of Europe's premier club tournament and coached by former Tottenham boss Martin Jol, were held 1-1 at home by Greek club PAOK.

Braga, who won all but one game and conceded just six times at home in their run to second place in the Portuguese league last season, were ahead in the 25th minute against Celtic. Alan Silva converted a penalty after Korea Republic international Ki Sung-Yeung blocked a cross in the box with his arm.

Braga doubled their lead in the 76th minute when Nigerian defender Uwa Elderson Echiejile headed in a corner. Brazilian substitute Nascimento Matheus scored a sensational free-kick from 35 yards in the 88th minute to leave Celtic with a mountain to climb at Parkhead in the return leg next week.

In Amsterdam, Uruguayan 2010 FIFA World Cup™ star Luiz Suarez fired Ajax into the lead after just 13 minutes, but PAOK grabbed a crucial away goal 13 minutes from time when Serbian midfielder Vladimir Ivic found the target past Dutch international keeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

Partizan Belgrade took a huge step closer to the play-off round with a 3-0 home win over HJK Helsinki of Finland with goals from Ivica Iliev, Sasa Ilic and Cleo.