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Derek McInnes will lead Aberdeen into one of Scottish football’s least favourite venues when they take to the field against Chikhura Sachkere in their Europa League second qualifying round tie.
The Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi has been a graveyard for two failed campaigns to reach the European Championship under first Alex McLeish and then Gordon Strachan.
Aberdeen will hope to redress that balance slightly when they walk on to the Georgian national stadium’s pitch on Thursday in temperatures of 30C.
There will likely be fewer than 2,000 people in attendance in a venue that holds almost 55,000 with Chikhura unable to host the Scots in rural Sachkere due to Uefa restrictions, meaning they will be playing almost three hours away from home.
Unless Aberdeen fans have an interest in football in Georgia, many may not have heard of their opponents, who do not exactly have a glittering history.
The club won the Georgian Cup in 2017 in what was their first – and to date – only major honour.
Their Europa League qualifying berth came, like Aberdeen, by virtue of a fourth-placed finish and they are currently sixth in the Erovnuli Liga, midway through their league campaign.
They came through the first qualifying round by disposing of Luxembourg’s Fola Esch, former adversaries of the Dons.
And while it can hardly be described as a glamour tie for the Aberdeen supporters, Chikhura have claimed two decent scalps in their relatively short European history, in the shape of Turks Bursaspor and Israelis Beitar Jerusalem.
Who are their players to watch?
Dino Hamzic: The Bosnian goalkeeper was an assured presence against Fola in the last round, beaten only by penalties in either leg. Beginning at FK Sarajevo in his homeland, he had a spell in Poland with Widzew Lodz and could be a barrier over these two games.
Mekheil Sardalishvili: A cup-winner with Chikhura two years ago and was a Georgian champion with his previous club Zestafoni in 2012, Sardalishvili scored in both legs of their previous tie. The 26-year-old is one of the more experienced at European qualifiers such as this one.
Rati Ardazishvili: The Georgia under-21 international scored a superb opening goal in the second leg against Fola, which all but ended the tie as a contest. On loan from fellow top flight side FC Locomotive, Ardazishvili’s preferred position is at number 10 and has potential to stand-out in this tie.
What they said
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes: “Sometimes a draw away from home can be a good result in Europe but the intention is to try to win the game. We understand we’re up against a good opponent.
“Over the last week we’ve got to understand Chikhura’s team and I think they’re a very well-coached side, with good individuals and good technical players.”