Who are Aberdeen’s Europa League opponents…NK Maribor?
Aberdeen are now just two rounds away from the Europa League group stage, having knocked out Fola Esch and swept aside six-time Latvian champions Ventspils.
That means the Dons have now secured a tasty encounter with Slovenian giants NK Maribor, who have reached the Europa League group stages on three occasions, as well as making the groups in the 2014-15 Champions League campaign.
So, what can Reds players – and fans – expect from their next European test? Well, we’ve covered the club, stars, and even the ground for your convenience. Who knows, there might even be a Slovenian football round at your next pub quiz?!
Who are they?
Based in Maribor, the country’s second city, Vijoličasti were formed in 1960 and spent much of their existence as a modest outfit in the old Yugoslavian football league, but quickly flourished once Slovenia got its own league setup in 1991.
Since first lifting the Slovenian PrvaLiga in 1997, Maribor have dominated the national scene, winning 13 league titles, including an incredible run of seven in a row.
Pipped to the title last season by Olimpija Ljubljana, Darko Milanic’s men will be keen to make amends with an impressive European campaign. And they have plenty of pedigree in this competition, bagging wins against the likes of Palermo, Panathinaikos, and Wigan Athletic in recent years.
What’s the ground like?
With its a spectacular view of rolling hills, stylish curved stands and (usually) superb weather, there’s little doubt that Stadion Ljudski vrt is the most scenic spot to watch Europa League football this season.
This isn’t a huge ground, with the capacity a shade under 13,000 – but with Maribor recording Slovenian football’s highest attendance almost every season since their title dominance began, the atmosphere tends to be lively – and the Dons’ passionate away support are sure to play their part in the first leg!
The star men?
Derek McInnes and co. will be relieved to see that Maribor’s star man last season – French striker Jean-Philippe Mendy – has left Slovenia for the Chinese Super League, following 20 goals from 41 games in the 2015-16 campaign.
But Štajerski ponos still boast plenty of threat from elsewhere. Israeli international Marwan Kabha is a creative and commanding presence in central midfield, while young striker Gregor Bajde is quickly becoming a prolific hitman, netting 14 times last season.
Meanwhile, new midfield signing Blaz Vrhovec arrives from arrives from rivals Celje with a big reputation having established himself in the Slovenian national team in 2016.
Can they trouble Aberdeen?
There’s no question Maribor are a step up from the likes of Ventspils – but having found their stride in Europe with that commanding 4-0 aggregate win over the Latvians – chances are that we’ll see two exciting, competitive and close ties.
With the likes of Adam Rooney and Jayden Stockley having hit the ground running this season for the Dons, and three clean sheets in their four European ties so far, there’s plenty for Derek McInnes’ men to be confident about.
But the Reds will need to ensure they’re well organised and quick off the mark in defence, with the likes of Bajde likely to take advantage if the Scottish side aren’t at the top of their game.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing