Aberdeen will have to settle for the Europa Conference League group stage this season after a gut-wrenching defeat by Swedish champions BK Hacken in the Europa League play-offs.
The tie was perfectly poised after the Scottish Premiership side’s commendable comeback from 2-0 down in Gothenburg last week.
But Ibrahim Sadiq, who confirmed post-match that he is moving to AZ Alkmaar, scored twice before the break to silence a boisterous Pittodrie.
Bojan Miovski’s cool penalty, after Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes was tripped, sparked hope within the stands that the heroics of seven days ago could be emulated.
And they should have been, but the North Macedonia international squandered a glorious opportunity to take the tie to extra time, when he scooped an effort agonisingly wide.
The disappointment was then compounded when Amor Layouni buried a spot-kick – awarded after a VAR review – to ensure the Swedes claimed a spot in European football’s second-tier competition.
Aberdeen, whose aspirations of a first Europa League group campaign in 16 years are over, will instead learn their Conference League opponents on Friday (13:30 BST).
There was a wealth of hope among the healthy home support, but there was soon a case of deja vu as Hacken executed a sobering double sucker-punch in the first half.
If the thunderous opener from distance proves to be one of Sadiq’s final contributions for the Swedes, he guaranteed it was memorable.
Had Aberdeen been ruthless, there would have been an equaliser before the Ghanaian slotted in the second, but Duk wasted a one-on-one with Peter Abrahamsson.
His strike partner Miovski forced a wondrous save from the goalkeeper a few moments later though, a fingertip connection just enough to tip it on to the frame of the goal.
In Sadiq, AZ are getting a gem. On a hat-trick, he unselfishly slipped in Srdan Hrstic to kill the tie off from point-blank range. But, the 20-year-old somehow missed the glaring chance.
Miovski’s penalty prompted hope, but that optimism soon dissipated when Slobodan Rubezic was belatedly penalised for tripping Sadiq in the box and Layouni killed the tie.
Sadiq should have left with the match ball as a parting gift as his curling effort clipped the far post, but his stunning individual performance has secured the Swedes a place in the Europa League for the first time.
Player of the match – Ibrahim Sadiq
If it wasn’t for Sadiq and sitters – analysis
Sadiq confirmed post-match that he is headed for the Eredivisie and how Aberdeen fans will have wished he had made that move a few days ago.
If it wasn’t for him, a Europa League place may just have been theirs. However, for all of the Hacken forward’s magic, Aberdeen only have themselves to blame, with a lack of potency coming back to bite them.
Much has been made that Duk is not at the same level as last term. Six months ago, he would surely have tucked away his glaring sight at goal with style. Miovski too, should have rippled the back of the net when the chance presented itself.
Easy said sitting here, but the expectations from this pair are high after the standards they set last season.
What will also need to be worked on is Aberdeen’s defence. The three at the back allows for the wing-backs to flow forward and create excitement up the other end, but Barry Robson’s side were left wide-open and Hacken capitalised.
What they said
Aberdeen manager Barry Robson: “We were unfortunate first half. We created loads of opportunities and they had a counter and a wonder goal. But we’ve got to be respectful as well. They had some terrific talent at the top end of the pitch.
“I’m really pleased with the effort and the chances we created. Another day we maybe score more goals. We wanted to be brave, but unfortunately their quality told.
“If we put our chances away, there’s a good chance we win the game. It does [feel like a missed opportunity] when you think about how well we’ve played over the two legs.”
Aberdeen are back at Pittodrie on Sunday as they welcome Hibernian (15:00 BST).
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