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Aberdeen keeper Joe Lewis targeting Conference League joy after previous Euro heartache

Joe Lewis during training
Joe Lewis during training

Aberdeen keeper Joe Lewis has suffered enough previous third qualifying round heartache and does not intend to experience a repeat.

Club captain Lewis has exited in the third qualifying round of the Europa League to Maribor (2016), Apollon Limassol (2017), HNK Rijeka (2019) and Sporting Lisbon (2020).

There was also a second round exit to Premier League Burnley in 2018.

They all add up to a catalogue of frustration for the 33-year-old.

Now Aberdeen face Breidablik in the Uefa Europa Conference League third qualifying round second leg at Pittodrie with a 3-2 advantage.

A different tournament this season, different manager and Lewis is determined to secure a different outcome as he targets the lucrative group stages.

Aberdeen keeper Joe Lewis a training session at Cormack Park ahead of the Euro tie.

He said: “We know what is at stake in these games and the prize is to get into the group stage of European football.

“That would be brilliant for Aberdeen, a football club that has such a rich history in Europe.

“The longer we can go in Europe the better.

“The season always starts off with a bang with two games a week in Europe.

“The longer you progress in Europe the bigger the demand is physically on the players.

“However, we feel we are up to it and have a strong squad this season.

“There is no reason why we cannot progress and hopefully next Thursday will be looking at another European tie.”

All focus on Breidablik. Joe Lewis in training.

Play-offs within touching distance

Should Aberdeen finish the job they began with victory in Iceland, their reward will be a play-off clash against either Cypriot side AEL Limassol or Azerbaijan’s Qarabag.

Win the play-off and the Dons would progress to the group stages of European competition for the first time since the UEFA Cup in 2006-07.

However, Lewis refuses to look too far ahead and is completely focused on the challenge of Breidablik.

He said: “Of course the goal is to get to the groups and from there you reassess and think what we can do from there.

“That would be big for the football club.

“However, we are not going to get ahead of ourselves.

“We have a one-goal advantage, but have seen that Breidablik can hurt us if given the time and space to do that.

“They have some good players so we have to make sure we are fully focused.”

Lewis expects Red Army to be vocal

The Red Army will be out in force for the Breidablik clash with the Red Shed sold out and more than 13,000 tickets snapped up by the eve of the game.

It will be the first time Pittodrie has been at normal operating capacity since the pandemic hit last March.

Lewis is relishing the atmosphere he anticipates the crowd will make.

He said: “It is a brilliant game for us with what should be a big crowd in making a noise.

“European nights are always special as they have a different feel to them.

“I am really looking forward to it – to finally get a big crowd back in.”

Two-goal salvo was a timely reminder

Aberdeen romped into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 11 minutes in Iceland, but that early momentum evaporated as they were pegged back to go into the break level.

A goal from United States international striker Christian Ramirez, his second of the game, secured a 3-2 advantage to take to Pittodrie in the return leg.

Lewis insists their comeback was a reminder about Breidablik’s quality.

He said: “It was disappointing to give away that lead as we had worked hard.

“We worked on set-plays and it was no coincidence we scored from them.

“It is a good reminder for us that they have excellent quality and should we allow them time and space they have players that can hurt us.”

Confidence high after win at Livingston

Aberdeen set up the showdown with the Icelanders courtesy of a 5-3 aggregate defeat of Swedish side BK Hacken in the previous round.

Breidablik secured a 3-1 win over Stjarnan in the Icelandic top flight on Monday.

Aberdeen also secured a victory ahead of the Euro second leg, with a 2-1 defeat of Livingston away on Sunday.

The winner came courtesy of an injury time goal from right-back Jack Mackenzie.

Lewis said: “The team is pretty confident. Young Jack (Mackenzie) is full of confidence at the moment.

“It was great to see him especially have that moment for himself.

“You could see what that meant to the supporters and the players.

“Livingston is always a very difficult place to go and try to get a result.

“It was very pleasing to come away with a win and we move on to a difficult one now in Europe.

“We know what Breidablik are about, what type of team they are, and it will be a difficult tie.

“We have to make sure we are at it, apply ourselves well and are professional about it.

“A combination of those, should we do that, and we will get through the tie.”

 

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