Aberdeen are doing Scottish football proud on the continent right now, with Derek McInnes’ men racking up a 3-1 Europa League triumph over Siroki Brijeg in their Second Qualifying Round clash.
However, the Ladbrokes Premiership side now face a side with plenty of continental pedigree in the form of Cypriot heavyweights Apollon Limassol. It’s still a winnable tie for the Dons, but they’ll have to find a way to outsmart their opponents’ key men – beginning with a top-class goalkeeper…
Bruno Vale (GK)
The one-time Portugal international enjoyed arguably the best season of his career last term, recording 15 clean sheets in 33 league outings, including a pair of shutouts against eventual league winners APOEL Nicosia.
A hugely experienced keeper, this is the fifth successive season of European football the 34-year-old has enjoyed with Apollon, and while his abilities as an organiser have improved, he’s lost little of his agility.
Vale’s record of four successive clean sheets in the UEL in 2015-16 should give the Dons frontline a good idea of just how clinical they need to be in one-on-one situations.
Marios Stylianou (RB)
A product of the youth system at Tsirion Stadium, the youngster is a bona fide fan favourite. But that’s as much due to his excellent performances as his background, with the 23-year-old having proven himself a hugely reliable and classy full-back.
Having played in three of Cyprus’ last four games, it’s clear Stylianou is just as highly rated outside of Limassol. And more club-level performances like his show-stopping, assist-grabbing turn away at Zaria Balti last week will only continue the rise of the youngster’s reputation.
Alex da Silva (AM)
We don’t so much need to describe the Brazilian’s impact as let the stats speak for themselves. 12 goals and 15 assists in the Cypriot First Division last term is a stunning return from midfield, while he also set up goals in both legs of Blue-Whites’ narrow European defeat to Grasshoppers of Switzerland.
He’s started this campaign in similarly explosive style, netting in both legs of the club’s comfortable UEL triumph over Zaria (5-1 on aggregate).
Emilio Zelaya (CF)
They may have finished in the bottom half of the league table last term, but life would have been much worse for Ethnikos Achna without the goals of Argentine Zelaya, who struck 15 times – including a run where he netted nine in as many games.
Having scored over 50 times during his time in Argentina for clubs like Rosario Central and Arsenal de Sarandi, he’s made the difference at a high level throughout his career. And while breaching Aberdeen’s defence will be a tough test, we wouldn’t put it past a player of Zelaya’s quality.
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