The historical significance of Aberdeen being drawn against Sweden’s BK Hacken in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round won’t have been lost on the Red Army.
They’re a club from Gothenburg (although Swedes may say Hisingen), scene of the Dons’ greatest moment – their European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph under Sir Alex Ferguson.
What year did Hacken first play in the Swedish top-flight? You guessed it – 1983.
But what do we know about the side the Reds will be coming up against at Pittodrie on July 22 and then at the Bravida Arena on July 29?
New boss Stephen Glass will desperate to use Europe’s new continental competition – the Europa Conference League – to bring group-stage football to the Granite City for the first time since 2007/08.
To achieve this, the Dons will need to negotiate the second qualifying round – against Hacken – then the third qualifying round, then a play-off.
How fearful will the Reds be of falling at what is their first hurdle against the Allsvenskan outfit?
A good time to play Hacken?
Former Aberdeen goalkeeper David Preece – who until recently was coaching in Sweden with Ostersunds – was quick to both praise some of Hacken’s players and also point out their woeful start to the 2021 campaign.
Häcken are a decent outfit with talented players. Always been impressed with Ekpolo at RB and Berggren at CM, and some real attacking threats with the likes of Jeremejeff and Irandust. That said, they’ve started the Allsvenskan season atrociously. Interesting game for the Dons. https://t.co/bX1yT2AjL2
— David Preece (@davidpreece12) June 16, 2021
Preece is correct. After eight matches, Hacken are rock-bottom of the Allsvenskan, with just one win to go with their three draws and four losses. Some reports in Scandinavia have labelled them a club “in crisis”.
All of their defeats have been by one goal, however, and they have scored in all but one of their matches.
In Hacken’s last league outing, they beat Varbergs BoIS 3-1, but followed this up with a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out loss to Hammarby in the Swedish Cup final.
They are next in league action against AIK on July 4 and during the extended break have lost boss of four years Andreas Alm, replacing him with former Norway manager Per-Mathias Hogmo.
Consistent performers previously
Their poor start to the 2021 campaign aside, Hacken – who have an artificial surface at the Bravida Arena – are a club who have performed well in recent years.
They were third in 2020, sixth in 2019, fifth in 2018 and fourth in 2017, and have as a result played in Europa League qualifying three of the last four years.
Among the continental qualifying ties they’ve contested have been clashes with the Netherlands’ AZ Alkmaar in 2019 and Germany’s RB Leipzig the year before.
Although they were defeated on aggregate by both, they drew one leg in each tie, including a 1-1 draw against Leipzig in Gothenburg (they lost that tie 5-1).
The only time they’ve met Scottish competition in Europe was in the 2007/08 Uefa Cup second qualifying round, when they played a Dunfermline Athletic side, starring – in another big coincidence – Stephen Glass. The Swedes beat the Pars 1-0 at home and 1-1 away for a 2-1 aggregate win.
On top of their league and European showings, Hacken also won the national cup in both 2015/16 and 2018/19.
Hacken’s current squad
Preece’s tweet mentioned Godswill Ekpolo and Gustav Berggren among Hacken’s best performers. The former, a right-back, was in Barcelona’s youth academy, while the latter came through at Hacken and has been capped once by Sweden.
Captain Rasmus Lindgren, 36, has two caps and previously played for another team familiar to Dons fans, FC Groningen (twice), as well as an even bigger Dutch side in Ajax, while goalkeeper Peter Abrahamsson is another Swedish cap, who has been at Hacken since 2014.
Other Swedish internationalists include striker Alexander Jeremejeff, midfielder Erik Friberg and Martin Olsson – yes, the same Martin Olsson who played for Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City and Swansea, who went to both Euro 2012 and the 2018 World Cup.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old attacker Daleho Irandust has three Sweden caps, while winger Ali Youssef is a Tunisia international.
The most-caps award in the team goes to defender Joona Toivio, though, who has played more than 70 times for Finland. He started the Finns’ 1-0 win over Denmark at Euro 2020 on Saturday and against Russia today.
So, although Hacken are off the boil as a side, individually, there’s clearly plenty of ability and experience for Aberdeen to be wary of.