Hacken v Aberdeen: Free-scoring Swedish champions a threat in Europa League

Aberdeen's Christian Ramirez in action during a Europa Conference League Second Qualifying Round match between BK Hacken and Aberdeen at the Bravida Arena
Aberdeen and BK Hacken are much changed from their meeting in 2021
Venue: Bravida Arena, Gothenburg Date: Thursday, 24 August Kick-off: 18:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra/DAB/810MW, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

For Aberdeen fans, the journey to Gothenburg is something of a pilgrimage.

The site of the club’s greatest triumph – the European Cup Winners’ Cup win over Real Madrid 40 years ago – is a city that holds near mythical status for Dons fans.

In Aberdeen, say Gothenburg, think Miller, McLeish, Black, Hewitt, Cooper, and the rest.

That great feat will never be repeated, and while fans who make the trip can bask in nostalgia, the current Aberdeen side are here strictly on business.

BK Hacken, the Swedish champions, lie in wait in the Europa League play-off.

Aberdeen have fresh memories of dispatching the same club 5-3 on aggregate two years ago – but this is a very different Hacken team, one that has lost precious few games in the past year and scores plenty of goals.

Couple that with Aberdeen’s slow start to the new campaign and their ongoing squad surgery, and this becomes a tie that is a lot harder than it looks at first glance.

Hacken’s strong home form

Only four Hacken players who took part in that Europa Conference League second qualifying round tie in 2021 remain at the club.

There has been lots of change across the North Sea too, with Jack MacKenzie and Jonny Hayes the only first team regulars who are still at Aberdeen, which means little can be taken from that 5-1 home win, followed by a 2-0 away defeat.

Far from one of Sweden’s biggest clubs, Hacken have grown in stature in the past decade, clinching their first ever Allsvenskan title last year.

Guided by the experienced former Norway boss Per Mathias-Hogmo, they lost only two of their 30 league games last season, and are just a point behind leaders Elfsborg two thirds of the way through this campaign.

Retaining their crown is a distinct possibility and they have already won the Swedish Cup.

Hacken are especially strong at their small home, the Bravida Arena, where they are unbeaten in 12 games, winning 11 of them and scoring a hefty 43 goals.

They are not infallible, having lost in Champions League qualifying to the Faroese side Klaksvik on penalties. They conceded three goals at home in the second leg of that tie after a goalless draw in the Faroe Islands, which suggests they can be vulnerable.

However, after dropping into the Europa League, they dispatched Zalgiris Vilnius, a side who pushed Galatasaray close in Champions League qualifying, 8-1 on aggregate in the previous round.

And, with a first ever campaign of European group stage football already secured, the pressure is off, making this attacking side dangerous.

Sadiq headlines attacking talent

Hacken boast a young and dynamic set of players, particularly in forward areas. Ghanian winger Ibrahim Sadiq has the ability to create something out of nothing, boasting 17 goals in 21 appearances this season, and three in his past two matches.

Amor Layouni on the left wing and Serbian striker Srdjan Hrstic have made immediate impacts since joining in the summer window, scoring a further eight between them in quick time.

In midfield they are marshalled by captain Samuel Gustafson, who has experience of playing in Serie A and seven Sweden caps, having forced his way into the national side later in his career based on his form for Hacken.

His twin brother Simon also adds more top level experience from his time with Feyenoord and the prolific midfielder Mikkel Rygaard has a staggering 11 goals and 15 assists in 31 games.

They have nous in defence and though precocious left-back Kristoffer Lund left for Palermo on Monday in a deal worth around £2m, Hacken moved swiftly to replace him with Jacob Barrett Laursen from Standard Liege, who has also played 40 times for Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga.

Given Angus MacDonald only returned from the bench last week, Rhys Williams is recovering from injury and Or Dadia and James McGarry are still getting up to speed, another makeshift Aberdeen defence seems likely. They will be sorely tested on Thursday evening.

The fact Aberdeen also have a Conference League group stage place in their back pocket eases the pressure, but this is a rare chance to get to the second tier of European football by only winning one tie.

Real Socieded, Burnley and Sporting Lisbon are just three of the clubs to have put Aberdeen out of this competition even before the play-off stage in the past decade.

So while Hacken should not be taken lightly, neither should the opportunity before Aberdeen to face some of the continent’s biggest clubs regularly for the first time since 2007.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *