Aberdeen are looking to avoid the fate of fellow Ladbrokes Premiership sides Rangers and St Johnstone as they make their European bow against Bosnian outfit NK Siroki Brijeg at Pittodrie on Thursday.
So, who are the visitors? And what can Dons fans expect from their adversaries?
Founded in 1948, the club from the mountainous city of Siroki Brijeg have enjoyed the majority of their success since the creation of the Premier League of Bosnia & Herzegovina in 2000.
Plavi (or ‘The Blues’) have lifted the title twice to date – in 2004 and 2006, as well as finishing runners-up on five occasions.
They’ve also been consistent heavyweights in the Bosnia Football Cup, lifting the trophy on three occasions – with a penalty shoot-out triumph over FK Sarajevo in the 2017 Final giving the club their Europa League berth.
This season represents the 14th time Plavi have featured in European football – though their biggest achievement so far is reaching the First Round Proper of the UEFA Cup on two occasions.
However, while Siroki have a fair bit of continental experience, this is far from the strongest side they’ve had. Last term’s cup triumph masked a disappointing year in which Goran Sablic’s men finishing in the bottom half of the league table after failing to win any of their final eight games.
Haven’t we seen you before?
The name Siroki Brijeg might ring a few bells for Scottish fans, and especially those of Heart of Midlothian, who played the Bosnian outfit in the Champions League Qualifying Rounds back in 2006.
Hearts triumphed on that occasion, winning 3-0 at Tynecastle in the first leg – thanks to goals from Ibrahim Tall and Roman Bednar, following a Branimir Anic own goal. That was followed by a 0-0 draw in the Balkans. And it’s fair to say Derek McInnes’ side would be delighted by matching those scorelines.
There’s also a major link between that Siroki side and the current one, in the form of veteran Wagner Lago. He played in both games against Hearts way back in 2006, and remains one of the key performers for Sablic’s side. Speaking of which…
The main men:
While Aberdeen have the quality – on paper at least – to win this tie, Plavi certainly aren’t the easiest opponents they could have faced at this stage. Largely because they have this trio in their ranks…
Stipo Markovic (LB)
A product of the club’s youth setup, Markovic made his debut in 2012 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old and has since established himself as one of the club’s most reliable performers.
Solid in defence, he was an integral part of the backline which kept six consecutive clean sheets in last year’s triumphant cup run. And the full-back has also proved very effective at the other end, chalking up assists in league, cup and Europe last term.
Luka Menalo (LM/RM)
The 20-year-old has a very bright future ahead of him, having produced a slew of outstanding performances last season. He’s still young and inconsistent, but near-unplayable on his day – as he proved with a sublime hat-trick against Olimpik Sarajevo in April.
One thing worth noting is that he scored 12 of his 14 goals at Stadion Pecara in 2016-17, so needs watching closely on home turf.
Wagner Lago (AM)
The Brazilian veteran joined the Bosnian outfit back in 2006, and has played 268 times for them, chalking up 102 goals in the process. The creative midfielder’s powers are showing little sign of waning, even at the grand old age of 39-years-old, as proved by 11 goals and four assists in 32 games last term.
Located in the North-West of the city, the 5,628-capacity Stadion Pecara is surrounded by a scenic backdrop of tree-lined hillside and colourful houses. The ground saw a turnout of 3,100 for the club’s last home European game – against FK Ordabasy, a fortnight ago.
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