Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

BK Hacken v FK Zalgiris: Insiders profile teams – and rate chances of progress to Europa League play-off battle with Aberdeen

The Swedish and Lithuanian champions go head-to-head over the next two Thursdays, and the winner will meet the Dons for a place in the Europa League groups.

BK Hacken could meet Aberdeen in the Europa League play-off round. Image: Shutterstock.
BK Hacken could meet Aberdeen in the Europa League play-off round. Image: Shutterstock.

Swedish side BK Hacken are favourites to defeat Lithuania’s FK Zalgiris and progress to a Europa League play-off tie with Aberdeen, according to journalists who know the respective clubs.

The sides meet in a third qualifying round tussle over the next two Thursdays, and the victors will move on to another two-legged tie against the Dons – the final obstacle to confirming a slot in the Europa League group stage.

We spoke to journalist Linus Petersson, who spent several years working in Gothenburg covering Hacken for the Goteborg-Posten newspaper and website, and Tomas Gustas, a sports writer who covers Zalgiris for Lithuanian media company Lietuvos rytas.

They not only gave The Press and Journal a sense of which side they consider favourites and underdogs to get through to take on the Reds, but also profiled Hacken and Zalgiris: their coaches, players, the mood around them and their hopes for the campaign at home and in Europe.

Hacken ‘favourites’ – but Zalgiris will ‘like’ underdogs status

Both insiders agreed Swedish Allsvenskan champions Hacken have the edge over last term’s A Lyga winners Zalgiris, who are based in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

The first leg of the third qualifying round clash takes place in Lithuania (Thursday, 5pm GMT), and Hacken expert Petersson thinks the Swedes will be confident, saying: “Absolutely they’re going in as favourites for this tie.

“I think they’ll be quite happy with the draw.”

Hacken and Zalgiris both dropped out of Champions League qualifying at the second round, against the Faroese side KI Klaksvik and Turkish giants Galatasaray, respectively.

FK Zalgiris taking on Galatasaray in Istanbul. Image: Shutterstock.

Zalgiris-focused journalist Gustas concurs the Lithuanian side will be underdogs against their Swedish rivals, as well as in a potential follow-up tie with Aberdeen  – but thinks it is the role which tends to suit the team in European competition.

Gustas said: “Zalgiris will be a little bit the underdogs – but that’s good, they like that.

“They played in the first round of Champions League qualifying against Struga of North Macedonia and, in that pairing, Struga were the underdogs. Zalgiris struggled because of the psychology of ‘you need to defeat them, you are the better team, you need to get to the second round, (and) if you lose everybody will write bad things and not understand’.

“But Zalgiris will be underdogs against the Swedish champions and Aberdeen, in my eyes – but not huge underdogs.”

In contrast, should they progress, Petersson rates Hacken’s chances of beating the Dons to the Europa League group stage as “50/50”.

Hogmo’s high-octane ‘Hackenfotboll’

What is obvious from speaking to both journalists is there are notable parallels between BK Hacken and FK Zalgiris which go beyond the synthetic playing surfaces at both the Bravida Arena and LFF Stadionas.

Petersson and Gustas each pointed to the tactical abilities of the clubs’ respective head coaches – Hacken boss Per-Mathias Hogmo and Zalgiris’ Vladimir Cheburin.

Should Hacken end up being Aberdeen’s play-off foes, Barry Robson’s Dons are expected to meet a much-improved team to the one the newly-installed Hogmo watched lose 5-1 to Stephen Glass’ Reds at Pittodrie in the second round of Europa Conference League qualifying in 2021.

BK Hacken manager Per-Mathias Hogmo during a 2021 European qualifier at Pittodrie. Image: SNS.

In Sweden’s 2022 season, Hacken won the Allsvenskan title for the first time in their history, completing a meteoric domestic rise under Hogmo’s stewardship.

Detailing Hacken’s high-octane style under the Norwegian coach, expert Petersson said: “I covered them for almost the whole season (2022) and you could see already in the pre-season they had something exciting going on – what they call ‘Hackenfotboll’. Very fast attacking, almost all times fast-building and everything should go really fast.

“I think it’s succeeded for Per-Mathias really well with that kind of change he made tactically.

“I would say their main strength is on the counter attack and focusing on having really fast players upfront.

“He plays 4-3-3 almost every time, and the three in the middle is one defensive midfielder with two number 10s.”

The improvements at Hacken since 2021 have also been the result of a recruitment strategy where “they got almost everything right”, according to Petersson.

This includes the “bargain” captures of the likes of Danish attacking midfielder Mikkel Rygaard from the Polish second division. He has recorded 17 league goals and 13 assists in one-and-a-half seasons.

Klaksvik’s Jakup Andreasen and Hacken’s Mikkel Rygaard, right, in action. Image: Shutterstock.

Cheburin’s Zalgiris ‘try to play with fast breaks’

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s most-storied club Zalgiris were in a relatively lean period before appointing the former triple-title-winning coach of rivals Marijampoles Suduva in 2021.

Boss Cheburin has solidified a new era of Zalgiris dominance, leading the Vilnius club to the A Lyga crown in both 2021 and 2022.

Describing the Kazakh coach as “key” to their recent success, sports writer Gustas said: “Success and stability came when Cheburin started to coach Zalgiris.

“Cheburin has a very good understanding of Lithuanian football and its tactics.

Zalgiris Vilnius head coach Vladimir Cheburin. Image: Shutterstock.

“He is a coach who likes to play patient football from the defence.

“But also Zalgiris often try to play with fast breaks.

“He likes to play 4-4-2, but he also likes to mix formations for every different opponent.

“Sometimes he’ll put players in the game who haven’t had a lot of game-time, because he thinks they will provide good opposition to the other team.”

In terms of Zalgiris’ key men, Gustas pinpointed the “very fast feet” of Nigerian attacker Mathias Oyewusi, and last season’s Lithuanian player of the year, long-serving goalkeeper and vice-captain Edvinas Gertmonas.

Zalgiris’ Mathias Oyewusi hurdles Galatasaray’s Baris Alper Yilmaz. Image: Shutterstock.

Last week, former Hearts winger Arvydas Novikovas – another player who has been crowned Lithuania’s best in the past – joined Zalgiris in an attempt to breathe new life into a career which has stalled in the last couple of seasons.

Hacken and Zalgiris: Two teams who are ‘focused a lot on Europe’

Another echo between Hacken and Zalgiris is neither side currently tops the table domestically in defence of their respective league crowns.

Zalgiris trail FK Panevezys in the A Lyga standings, but Gustas attributes some of their domestic results in 2023 to “a lack of luck in many games” and still thinks they have every chance of defending their title.

However, he also believes some new signings the club made for 2023 are yet to match the performances of previous Zalgiris squads, adding: “I think their quality is a little bit lower than last year.”

This being said, Zalgiris drew 2-2 at home with Galatasary in their Champions League qualifying tie, and went on lose just 1-0 in Istanbul as they went toe-to-toe with the illustrious Turks.

Like Aberdeen, both Hacken and Zalgiris know a spot in the Europa League play-off round comes with the multi-million promise of group stage action in either the Europa League or Conference League.

Having made history by playing in the Conference League groups last season, Gustas thinks it would be a “disappointment” for his nation were the Vilnius side not to at least repeat an achievement which was “a huge moment for Zalgiris and for all Lithuanians”.

Petersson, on the other hand, believes Hacken’s weakened showing in the Allsvenskan so far in 2023 is a by-product of putting their focus on landing European group stage football for the first time in their 83-year history.

Their Champion League exit at the hands of a team from the Faroes was part of “a couple of dark weeks” in Continental qualification for Swedish sides.

Petersson gave his view the failure to replace leading scorer and creative force Benie Traore (sold to Sheffield United) in time for the tie was a contributing factor in what was an eventual, deeply frustrating penalty shoot-out loss to Klaksvik for Hacken.

Hacken’s team walk off after their penalty shoot-out loss to KI Klaksvik of the Faroe Islands in Champions League qualifying. Image: Shutterstock.

However, they have since bolstered their options – and recorded an impressive domestic win – with Petersson adding: “They beat Elfsborg – maybe the best team in Sweden right now – with 10 men in second half.

“So they are a really, really good team, but struggled a little bit with that sale and the midfield (injuries v Klaksvik).

“I think they will be focused a lot on Europe, as we all know how much money you can bring in just by getting to the group stage.”

Hacken or Zalgiris’ Europa League play-off clash with Aberdeen will be played across Thursday, August 24 and 31, with the second leg at Pittodrie