Dons know they’ve got what it takes to win in Bosnia

The mercury hit 100 degrees and it was so hot there were water breaks – but still Aberdeen defeated HNK Rijeka 3-0.

Now two years on and across the border from that memorable win in Croatia the Dons will go again in Bosnia, in similar conditions.

It will be slightly cooler when the Reds take to the Pecara Stadium to face NK Siroki Brijeg, as the kick-off is 8.45pm local time.

The temperature is still expected to be 80 degrees with humidity as high as 65%.

Dons boss Derek McInnes accepts the Reds face a tough test after a 1-1 draw in the Europa League first qualifying round first leg at Pittodrie.

However, he reckons if the Reds can hand HNK Rijeka their first home defeat in 18 months in searing heat they can also triumph in Bosnia on Thursday.

Aberdeen’s best results in Europe under McInnes have come on the road – in Croatia, and a 2-1 win over Groningen in Holland the previous year.

McInnes wants the Reds to reproduce the spirit of those victories in Bosnia to keep the Europa League dream alive.

He said: “A lot of our better results in Europe have come on the road with wins against HNK Rijeka and Groningen.

“Now it will take a similar performance in Bosnia but I am confident we can produce that level over there.

“We have drawn games before and still managed to get through in Europe.

“Drawing at Pittodrie was not the result we wanted but we will take confidence from the fact we created opportunities. We know we can get far better than that.”

The enormity of that win in Croatia cannot be underestimated.

Aberdeen remain the last side to beat HNK Rijeka at home in any competition.

That run now stretches two years and 40 games.

Only Aberdeen have defeated HNK Rijka on their own turf since Dinamo Zagreb triumphed 2-1 in September 2014. Remarkably that is 59 games and three years with the recently-crowned Croatian champions’ only loss to the Reds.

Ironically, McInnes confirmed NK Siroki Brijeg lined up identically to how the Reds set up against HNK Rijeka in the searing heat of Croatia two years ago.

He said: “Tactically the Bosnians were set up well.

“They actually went with the same shape we used in Rijeka where we were a good counter-attacking team able to apply pressure. With the system Siroki Brijeg utilised we had to play around them and not play too many passes central.

“We played into their hands a little with that and they got more confident as the game progressed.

“They had one or two moments, particularly in the second half.

“However, it is only half-time in the tie and there is more to come from everybody.

“We will have to be better, as it is going to take a strong performance to get through.”

Aberdeen had just three-and-a-half weeks of pre-season training to prepare for the Europa League tie.

Siroki Brijeg have also not began their domestic campaign, but have had a longer pre-season with a camp in Austria.

For the Reds. three friendlies and a week-long training camp at St Andrews were compacted into pre-season.

McInnes also had five new signings for the tie, with Icelandic international Kari Arnason joining on a one-year deal after the Uefa registration deadline for the second round.

Winger Gary-Mackay Steven started against the Bosnians, just 24 hours after sealing a £150,000 move from Celtic.

McInnes said: “We are working to get that understanding with new signings coming in.

“There are also different players at different levels of fitness depending on where they have come from.

“The lads who came up from England had seven weeks off so it’s difficult to expect them to be ready. There are no excuses but it is a factor.”

Reduced preparation time in pre-season has been proposed as one factor in the exit of Rangers and St Johnstone from the Europa League in the previous round. Aberdeen are the only remaining Scottish team in the tournament and McInnes is determined to ensure that continues by progressing.

However he accepts the time-frame of Scottish football with the Reds playing until the Scottish Cup final in late May and returning in June, is problematic to Euro hopes.

He said: “It’s a tough call for me because we gave the players three-and-a-half weeks off. But the only real way you can be properly ready for this competition is if you don’t stop at all.

“If you don’t have a break and train through, you’d be ready – but that’s it.

“It’s a difficult call to make as a manager because you can see the players are flat out at the end of the season. But you can’t send them away for a long break to recharge.

“I don’t think you could train right through as it would be far too much. What we did was ask them to stop training for two weeks, just do little bits that we gave them to prepare for coming back. Then it was right back into it again.

“At this stage we are not going to be anywhere near the level we will get to. However we will be much better in Bosnia after having 90 minutes under our belt against that level of opponent.”

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