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Jamie Durent: Scottish clubs in Europe give reason for optimism for once

Christian Ramirez celebrates scoring for Aberdeen against Breidablik.
Christian Ramirez celebrates scoring for Aberdeen against Breidablik.

After some of the horror stories in recent years, you would be forgiven for treating Scottish clubs in Europe with a mixture of fear and anxiety.

The names of Progrès Niederkorn, Lincoln Red Imps, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Stjarnan would have ordinarily passed fans of Scottish football by if not for a headline-grabbing result against one of our clubs.

Aberdeen, while tending to get some difficult draws – Burnley, Real Sociedad and Sporting CP spring to mind – have thrown in a red herring or two. Their performances against HNK Rijeka two years ago were hugely underwhelming and going out to Apollon Limassol in 2017 was one the Dons wished they could have had back.

There is an argument to be made about dwindling resources among Scottish clubs and fewer European places, reducing both the quality of squads and the experience available to clubs from these shores.

Expectation, sometimes borne out of optimism or ignorance, has Scottish clubs as overwhelming favourites in some of these ties, only for a chastening result to quickly crush any optimism.

However, the early games of this season suggest the tide may – I stress may – be changing for Scottish clubs in Europe.

Aberdeen take a 3-2 lead from the first leg over Breidablik back to Pittodrie this week. Christian Ramirez’s sparkling start to life in the Granite City, the emergence of Calvin Ramsay at right-back and the entertainment value of watching the Dons has supporters galvanised on this European run.

The 5-1 win over BK Hacken in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round first leg caught many off-guard in what was supposed to be one of the more difficult draws Aberdeen could have got. There are question marks over their defence, given they have conceded twice in consecutive games away from home in Europe, but seeing off the Icelandic side at Pittodrie and progressing in the Conference League will have given them great confidence.

The result of the week, however, has to go to St Johnstone. Getting a 1-1 draw away to Galatasaray in Europe is nothing short of sensational. Callum Davidson continues to achieve miraculous things with this side.

Jason Kerr’s penalty, after Fernando Muslera attempted a challenge on Chris Kane you normally only try jokingly in five-a-side, threatened to make the evening even more memorable.

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson. Scottish clubs in Europe.
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson.

Sacha Boey’s goal puts the tie on the proverbial knife-edge for this week, with Saints already hoping for a full house.

Hibs will go to Croatia to face Aberdeen’s old foes Rijeka on the back of a 1-1 draw at Easter Road, with aspirations of progress in the ECL still very much in their sights.

Rangers have carried most of Scotland’s hopes in Europe over the last two or three years and, despite a 2-1 defeat to Malmo, they are three games away from the Champions League group stages.

Celtic are very much a unique case just now, given no-one knows what to expect from them week-to-week. Beating Jablonec 4-2 answered some questions, but raised others; it should at least be entertaining whatever their route in – or out – of Europe looks like.

After a period where it became a struggle for Scottish clubs in Europe, there may be signs of encouragement to cling to.

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