Iceland is the next destination on Aberdeen’s journey towards the group stages of the UEFA Conference League after Breidablik shocked much-fancied Austria Vienna on Thursday.
Dons fans would likely have been looking at Austria as their club’s potential next destination when the draw was made, but it is Reykjavik which beckons following a dramatic win for Oskar Hrafn Thorvaldsson’s side.
It is a result which has been labelled glorious by the Icelandic media and the underdogs are now chasing another scalp in the form of the Dons.
Breidablik’s rise has been a slow, but steady ascent and they are now regarded as one of the strongest teams in Iceland.
Initially a team which bounced between the two divisions, they have grown steadily since 2005, culminating in their first major title – the Icelandic Cup in 2009 – which was followed a year later by their first Urvalsdeild title.
The title win brought a European debut, against Motherwell in the Europa League, with the Steelmen winning both legs 1-0 to advance.
Their first Champions League campaign ended in a 5-2 loss to Rosenborg, before a notable first away win in Europe was recorded against Sturm Graz in 2013.
The club finished runners-up in the top flight in 2018 and 2019, leading to more European football. Vaduz of Liechtenstein edged them 2-1 in the first qualifying round of the Europa League in 2019, before Rosenborg ended their 2020 campaign at the first hurdle with a 4-2 win in the first qualifying round last year.
Those perennial struggles in Europe show why the victory against Austria Vienna has been celebrated in Iceland.
Success built on team ethic
Thomas Mikkelson, formerly of Ross County and Dundee United, is one of the strikers at the club who Scottish fans will be familiar with, but as Thorvaldsson stated after the game, the success of his side is built on the collective rather than individuals.
He said: “I just thank the players and coaches and everyone behind the scenes for managing this team.
“The team put a lot of effort into this game, which was a game of two halves. We completely controlled them in the first half, but only let them into the game in the second half.
“There are various things that you may not be happy with, but it is the great character, diligence, cooperation, trust and friendship that makes you dig a little deep to finish the game even though you have become tired.
“First and foremost, I’m proud of the team for how it performed during the 90 minutes of the game.”
Among the jubilant scenes of celebration, however, is an understanding from the manager of the improvement needed after watching his side narrowly withstand Vienna’s late surge for an equaliser.
Thorvaldsson said: “They managed to push us far down and we never got up the field. It’s just up to us to get better at managing games when there’s so much at stake and teams throw everything they have at us.
“We need to be smarter in managing the games better.”
The visit of Stephen Glass’ side next week is the reward for Breidablik, but Thorvaldsson is not looking any further than the next league game.
He said: “I have not started thinking about them. We’re supposed to play a game against Vikingur on Monday, which is a very difficult game.
“The focus is on that game as they are one of the best teams in the country, very tough opponents. We also just need to make sure we enjoy playing great opponents every three days, that’s a privilege.”
Skipper relishing test against the Dons
The leader on the pitch is captain Hoskuldur Gunnlaugsson, who is certainly relishing a third qualifying round tie against the Dons.
The 26-year-old midfielder said: “It’s just cool. Nice to go to Scotland. It’s just exciting to stay in this competition.”
On the memorable win against Vienna, he added: “I felt with the better team all over the pitch and I think those who have seen these games have to agree with that.
“We had a great performance in the first half. We could have scored the third goal and killed the game, and in the second half they had a lot of pressure but without creating anything.
“We scored rather early, which helps, and we scored the second goal a short time later, so it was just a perfectly set up game for us.”
High press likely against Aberdeen
Breidablik like to press high and Arni Vilhjalmsson, who scored in the 2-1 win on Thursday, believes that was key to upsetting Vienna across both legs.
Aberdeen should consider themselves warned.
The 27 -year-old striker, who started his career at Breidablik in 2010 before returning to the club this season from Ukrainian side Kolos Kovalivka, said: “I think everyone who watched this game saw that it was the team that won for us. Right from the first person to the last and everyone who has taken part in this with us.
“This has been an incredibly good run overall for the team ever since the league started this spring and then when this competition started.
“This is best seen in the way we press and in the defensive work and the runs and everything we did. It is not possible to thank anyone, but the whole group.
“We had seen how they played. We saw that we could put pressure on them and we are good at that. We are fast forward and can run a lot and when we succeed we can usually win the ball high up.
“It’s easier for us to play that way. You still don’t care how the teams play, you just work from the moments you get in the game.
“We showed it in our moves and the goals we scored.”