After silencing doubters on their return to the top-flight Viking FK manager Bjarne Berntsen has warned Aberdeen they thrive on being written off.
Back in Europe after a 12-year absence and just two years after relegation, Berntsen admits the Norwegians are underdogs.
But they beat the odds to qualify for Europe and aim to produce a “big surprise” in Stavanger against the Dons next Thursday.
At stake in the closed-door one-legged Europa League second qualifying round clash is an away trip to face Portuguese giants Sporting.
Berntsen, 63, said: “This season is the first in many years where we have played in Europe.
“Aberdeen will be well prepared and will be big favourites, but we want to produce a big surprise.
“Very few of my players have played in Europe before.
“However, we produced a big surprise to get back so soon to the top-flight after we were relegated for the first time in more than 20 years in 2017.
“After we were promoted, all the papers in Norway said we would struggle and were favourites to go down again.
“That inspired the players to prove people wrong and we were the big surprise in the Norway top-flight in 2019.
“We finished in fifth place and also won the Norwegian Cup.”
Viking FK are competing in Europe for the first time since 2008 when they lost out 2-1 to Finnish side FC Honka on aggregate in the second qualifying round of the Uefa Cup.
The previous season they reached the group stages of the Uefa Cup, but finished bottom of the table.
In 2002, Viking FK knocked out a shocked Chelsea, defeating the Stamford Bridge side 5-4 on aggregate in the Uefa Cup first round. And, two years earlier, they knocked out Sporting 3-1 in the Uefa Cup first round.
Berntsen said: “We hope to reach the group stages this season, but know it will be very difficult.
“Usually Aberdeen is the better team than Viking and Sporting is the better team than Viking. However, we beat Sporting 3-0 at home and lost 1-0 away the last time we played them to progress in Europe.
“Even if we beat both Aberdeen and Sporting, we still have a play-off with even more difficult opposition.
“For a small country like Norway, it is now so difficult to reach the group stage.
“Even what we in Norway call the big two in Scotland, Rangers and Celtic, they are also struggling to get into the group phases. It is really hard.”
Following that successful return to the Eliteserien last season, Viking FK have struggled to hit the same levels in the current campaign.
Success inevitably brought attention and Berntsen lost two of their top stars, Zlatko Tripic and Kristian Thorstvedt, to overseas moves in pre-season.
After 16 games, they sit 10th with just five victories.
However, their form has improved recently as Viking FK are unbeaten in four and beat second placed Molde 3-2 in their last game.
Berntsen said: “It has been two fantastic years, although this season has been a bit more of a struggle.
“We lost two of our most influential players after the season to foreign clubs.
“Captain Zlatko Tripic went to Turkey (Goztepe) and Kristian Thorstvedt went to Genk in Belgium. They both played very well for us last season.
“For the new campaign we made five new signings with our top addition Veton Berisha (striker) from Brann Bergen.
“Berisha has been abroad in Germany (SpVgg Greuther Fürth, Bundesliga 2) and Austria (Rapid Vienna) before.
“That was a top signing for us and he is now our top goalscorer.”
Berisha, 26, netted the opener against Molde and has scored six goals in their last five games.
Berntsen said: “We had a very good game against Molde and beat them 3-2 at home.
“That was our second win in a row so we are quite satisfied with the last four or five games.”