McKenna: We can break fresh Euro ground

Aberdeen's Scott McKenna
Aberdeen's Scott McKenna

Defender Scott McKenna is determined to help the Dons progress further in Europe than they have ever been under manager Derek McInnes.

Aberdeen will face RoPS Rovaniemi of Finland in the Europa League first qualifying round with the first leg on Thursday July 11. The Reds will compete in Europe for the sixth successive season under McInnes, but have yet to progress beyond the third qualifying round.

For four straight years the Dons crashed out at the third qualifying phase before exiting to Burnley in the second round last season.

Scotland international McKenna, 22, is determined to break new Euro ground under McInnes with the lucrative group stages the ultimate target.

McKenna said: “We have got to the third qualifying round a few times under Derek McInnes and are desperate to go further.

“It is four rounds to get to the group stages of the Europa League.

“This time we want to go on a wee run and hopefully get to the group stages.

“We got a really tough draw in our first Euro tie last year when landing Burnley.

“Although it was a difficult draw, we went into the ties believing that we could win.

“I don’t think we did ourselves any harm with our performance over the two ties or by losing out to an English Premier League side in extra-time.

“We held our own in both legs against Burnley.

“I’m not sure of what people think of the Scottish game down in England, but I am sure the Burnley game showed the standard is better than many of them will have expected.”

Aberdeen will not have to negotiate a club from the richest league in world football in their opening European tie.

This season the Reds will kick-off their Euro campaign against a side sitting 10th in the Finnish top flight after 11 games.

However, RoPS (Rovaniemen Palloseura) boast players such as former Marseille, QPR and AC Milan left-back Taye Taiwo.

The 34-year-old was capped 54 times by Nigeria.

Also in RoPS’ ranks is former French Under-20 international defender Mahamadou Sissoko, 30, who spent three seasons at Kilmarnock from 2010 to 13.

McKenna insists Aberdeen will approach the Europa League campaign with aspirations high.

He said: “We are definitely going into this year’s Europa League with confidence.

“There are a lot of players who have been here for two or three seasons and played a lot of European football. That experience will be very important.”

Aberdeen today returned for pre-season training after little more than a month off. It was shorter for McKenna who was on international duty with Scotland.

He started the 2-1 Euro 2020 qualifying defeat of Cyprus at Hampden and also the 3-0 loss to Belgium in Brussels, the team ranked number one in the world.

The Dons defender insists international action has equipped him for the new Euro campaign.

He said: “I’ve learned a lot in the games I have played for Scotland and I hope that helps when we go to play in the Europa League.

“Playing for Scotland does help me improve my game for Aberdeen.

“It is all about experiences and I had the opportunity to play against the best in the world and test myself.”

Following the qualifier in Belgium, the defender managed to get a week and a half of rest time and is ready for pre-season training and Europe.

He said: “I had a couple of weeks off prior to going away with the Scotland squad.

“During that time though I obviously needed to keep myself ticking over.

“After the game in Belgium I got 12 days to shut down before flying out to Cork with the Aberdeen boys.”