Landing Swedish side BK Hacken has mutated into a precarious Euro draw for Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass and his new-look side.
When the draw was made on June 16, the Gothenburg outfit were rock-bottom of the Allsvenskan and in a period of transition with a new manager yet to oversee a game.
Such was BK Hacken’s plight, the Swedish press had dubbed them a “club in crisis”.
Yet even when they were propping up the table, Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass was well aware of the Swedes’ threat and never underestimated them.
He was right. Fast forward five weeks and BK Hacken are no longer in crisis, but are rejuvenated.
Under new manager Per-Mathias Hogmo, they are a side on the ascendency with four straight league wins as they head to Pittodrie for tomorrow’s clash.
Aberdeen supporters’ assessment of BK Hacken’s threat since that initial draw may have changed, but Glass’ has been unwavering and that could be pivotal.
Glass has been preparing to face a strong side and the recent winning streak of Hacken has only made concrete his initial assessment.
For supporters, the initial lowly league status of Hacken may have clouded their judgment of a side that some pundits in Sweden had tipped as potential league winners before the campaign began.
They are beginning to show that form under an experienced boss in Hogmo, who has managed the Norwegian national team and sides such as Rosenborg in Europe
Any original notion the Europa Conference League, as Uefa’s third tier European club competition, would offer an easier route to the lucrative group stages than the Europa League have quickly been blown away.
If anything, the Conference League looks like it will offer a far more precarious route for Aberdeen than last season’s Europa League.
Should they see off BK Hacken, their reward will be a tie against group stage regulars Austria Vienna or Breidablik of Iceland.
Last season, the Reds kicked off their Euro campaign with a 6-0 thrashing of Faroe Islands side NSI Runavik at Pittodrie.
This time there is no luxury of starting a Euro campaign, and season, with a clash against part-time minnows.
Aberdeen are straight in at the deep end – and it will be sink or swim for a new-look side that has played just two friendly matches during pre-season.
Glass is confident his pre-season regime will have his squad ready for tomorrow’s clash and that the cancellation of scheduled games with Cove Rangers and Reading due to Covid-19 issues in the opponents’ camps have not dented his plans.
🔴 Thursday night's match with BK Hacken is now SOLD OUT!
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) July 20, 2021
In the second qualifying round of Europe’s third tier, the hope would be the Dons would draw a side from one of the smaller nations – say Latvia, Moldova, Faroe Islands or Gibraltar – not Sweden.
Let’s not forget Sweden reached the World Cup quarter-finals three years ago and qualified for Euro 2020.
In Scotland’s 23-year absence from a major tournament finals before Euro 2020, Sweden had qualified for three World Cup and six Euro championships.
The national side are strong and that seeps down to the domestic level.
— BK Häcken (@bkhackenofcl) July 17, 2021
Six of the players who started in BK Hacken’s recent 1-0 defeat of IFK Norrkoeping are senior internationals with another three U21 caps starting.
Recent signing Samuel Gustafson, who played for three seasons at Serie A side Torino, is also a Swedish international and made his debut at the weekend.
Another Swedish international, winger Delaho Irandust, returned from injury at the weekend and scored a sensational winner within four minutes of his introduction.
Leo Bengtsson stod för ett av fjolårets snyggaste mål när han avgjorde bortamatchen mot IFK Norrköping. Får vi se ett nytt drömmål från ”Bjässen” idag? pic.twitter.com/7GS6YrKHlM
— BK Häcken (@bkhackenofcl) July 18, 2021
Add in the fact Swedish international striker Alexander Jeremejeff was on the bench at the weekend, but is tipped to start tomorrow and BK Hacken look to have a strong starting XI with potent attacking options also available to come off the bench.
Hacken are 12 games into their league campaign and have winning momentum in competitive matches.
Whilst the Dons have undoubtedly strengthened in the summer, in contrast Stephen Glass’ new-look Aberdeen side have had just two friendlies.
As those friendlies were played behind closed doors, the rebuilt Dons will be an unknown quantity to the 5,665 fans inside Pittodrie – and also BK Hacken’s management, which could be in Aberdeen’s favour.
But there is one certainty – they will have to be on top of their game, and be at that level fast, to knock out Hacken.
Hopefully they progress to to the next round, but it looks like they are going to have to do it the hard way.
Scott Brown right choice for captaincy
Swedish side BK Hacken may be a tough proposition for a Euro opener, but there is no better qualified player to lead the Dons out against them than Scott Brown.
Naming the 36-year-old midfielder as the new team captain was the right, and logical, call.
When you sign a player that has captained Celtic to nine-in-a-row and the Quadruple Treble, those leadership skills have to be utilised.
Brown has led out Celtic in cup finals and games where league titles are decided.
He has captained the Hoops in huge Champions League matches against some of the continent’s top teams. Brown has also captained Scotland.
On penning a two-year deal at Pittodrie, he had to captain Aberdeen.
I was happy to see Joe Lewis’ role as captain during the last two seasons has been rewarded by the club.
Lewis is an exceptional ambassador for the club and will continue to represent Aberdeen as club captain off the pitch.
However, it is on the pitch where Brown’s leadership, drive and sheer will to win will hopefully pay dividends.
Brown’s experience should deliver fire and ice when he leads out the Dons tomorrow.
He will undoubtedly have the Reds fired up, but he will also instill a calmness in the squad to deal with the enormity of the game – and the added edge of playing in front of supporters for the first time in almost 18 months.
Olympics go ahead but caution urged
The cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics was “never an option'” insisted Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
More than a year after they were initially scheduled, the troubled Games will start with the opening ceremony on Friday.
This will open a bizarre and eerie Games with no spectators amid a nation caught in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.
We move forward when we move together.
— Olympics (@Olympics) July 20, 2021
Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the Games.
There is rising concern in Japanese society the influx of tens of thousands of athletes and coaches could cause a rise in infection rates.
Already there have been positive cases in the athletes’ village.
I look forward to watching the sporting action from Tokyo, but can’t shake the feeling the plug should have been pulled on the Olympics again.