ABERDEEN wanted to go far in Europe – but not as far as any Scottish club has gone before.
It’s a crazy 9500-mile round trip for the Dons to the edge of China and they’ll do well to come through a meeting with Kairat Almaty.
The Dons are travelling further than any club involved in Europe this week but have prepared well by going out a day early and flying overnight to limit the effects of jetlag. And £200k was splashed out on an executive jet that allowed players to put their feet up and get a good kip on the flight over.
So Aberdeen are being as professional as possible but nothing can prepare them for the 35-degrees heat – temperatures similar to those they suffered in the first round in Macedonia where they drew 1-1 with Shkendija.
Kairat are a decent outfit but on paper weaker than the Rijeka side Derek McInnes’s men routed 5-2 in the last round and the Scots will hope to produce a repeat of their 3-0 win in Croatia.
Almaty beat St Johnstone’s conquerors Alashkert in the last round and saw off a ragged Red Star Belgrade at the first hurdle, winning both legs. They’re no mugs and I’m on them at 21-20 with bet365 and McBookie to edge it.
I’m sure McInnes would be delighted to return home with a draw and that pays 12-5 at 888sport while the Scots are massive underdogs at 3-1 with McBookie to win. Both sides are 5-6 with bet365 to qualify.
Aberdeen would love to score and are 4-7 with William Hill to do so but Almaty haven’t conceded more than one goal in seven of their last European ties.
Two English sides are in action – West Ham against Inverness’s conquerors Astra and Southampton against Vitesse.
The Hammers were dire as they edged past Maltese minnows Birkirkara and surely must be better but I’m not keen to back them at 4-7 with McBookie.
Maybe Slaven Bilic’s line-up will give a clue as to how much they want a run in the tournament but they have showed little interest so far against Andorrans Lusitanos and then Birkirkara.
I’d rather be on Southampton who have beaten Dutch sides Groningen and Feyenoord in pre-season friendlies. Boss Ronald Koeman will be keen to put one over his former side and Saints are worth a look at 4-11 with Coral.
I’ll be keen to put up a first scorer for that one but want to see starting line-ups first.
Elsewhere there are some big names involved but of course most of them are still in pre-season mode and that can be a problem. Game include Athletic Bilbao v Inter Baku, Bordeaux v AEK Larnaca, Sampdoria v Vojvodina and Wolfsberger v Borussia Dortmund.
AIK Stockholm are being well tipped at home to Atromitos at 5-4 with William Hill and Henok Goitom is all the rage for first scorer after hitting five in three games. He is 24-5 at 888sport.