Former Don Kari Arnason insists the first goal is crucial as Aberdeen bid to get past Breidablik of Iceland in the Conference League third qualifying round.
Stephen Glass and his players fly out to Reykjavik on Wednesday for Thursday’s first leg and Arnason, whose club Vikingur lost 4-0 at the Dons opponents on Monday, knows from his club’s two games in the Icelandic top flight how important the first goal is.
He said: “For Aberdeen the first goal on Thursday is crucial.
“We missed an absolute sitter of a chance in the first seven seconds last night and then another chance after it. The first 20 minutes was ours, but we were punished for not scoring.
“We have a young squad of players and it was one of those days where it just didn’t work out for us.
“We were 2-0 down at half-time and talked about trying to get the third goal, but they scored from a set-piece at the start of the second half and it was done and dusted.
“They were happy to play the ball back and forth after the third goal, but even then we created six really good chances and should have scored.
“We were missing our striker Nikolaj Hansen, the leading goalscorer in the league, due to suspension and he has contributed 70% of our goals this season.
“Breidablik are the best possession team in the Icelandic league and once they get ahead it can be quite hard.
“When we played them at home earlier in the season we beat them 3-0 easily. We got the first goal and then hit them on the counter-attack repeatedly.
“We were confident we could do it again and had we taken one of our early chances I think we had a great chance of winning the game.”
Breidablik’s rise to prominence has accelerated in the last decade, but Arnason believes geography plays a significant part in their current status as one of the leading teams in Iceland.
He said: “How football works in Iceland is the league is made up of neighbourhood teams around the capital. These are teams out in the countryside and surrounding areas and there are only two clubs where Breidablik are based and they are the biggest. My team’s local area is smaller.
“They have a lot of talent and their pool is large. They sell a lot of players abroad to fund their first team and it is common for them to sell one or two or three every year.”
Change of venue will help the Dons
The first leg has been switched from Breidablik’s home stadium to the national stadium in Reykjavik and Arnason believes moving the game to Reykjavik will suit his former club.
Breidablik’s victory on Monday was their fifth 4-0 home win in six home games and Arnason, who had two spells with Aberdeen, said: “They need permission from UEFA to play games on their pitch as it is a very quick astro and it isn’t up to scratch.
“The fact the game has been moved to Laugardalsvollur, the national stadium in Reykjavik, is a huge boost for Aberdeen.
“It was in their interests to play the game away from Breidablik’s stadium, Kopavogsvollur. It would have been a much tougher game for Aberdeen there.”
Aberdeen’s set-piece threat will worry Breidablik
Arnason is hugely impressed by the job Oskar Hrafn Thorvaldsson, the head coach at Breidablik, has done at the club and has warned the Dons the threat will come from the wide areas on Thursday.
However, he also believes there are frailties in the Breidablik defence which Aberdeen, and a former team-mate in particular, can exploit over the two legs.
He said: “The Breidablik manager is very clever and he has changed them completely. He has a talented squad, but as I’ve said their games can go both ways in that it is either a comfortable win or a one-sided loss.
“They played without a recognised number nine against us and Austria Vienna and the combination play between the full-backs and the wingers is strong. That is where they will look to hurt you.
“I think Breidablik know they have to win the first leg as I expect them to struggle at Pittodrie as they don’t tend to travel well.
“But we have to remember this is Aberdeen, a much larger team, and they should not come to Iceland to be passive.
“They will have to be careful as Breidablik counter well, but we’re not talking about Barcelona here. Their win against us last night was a bad day at the office for us.
“Where Aberdeen can really cause problems though is from set-pieces and I expect that to be an area where they will look to capitalise.
“I had four clear headers last night which I should have done better with and big Andy Considine is stronger in the air than I am. My advice? Get it to big Consi at the back stick.”