FROM the moment Aberdeen and Groningen drew each other in the Europa League second qualifying round one word was uttered repeatedly from both camps:
respect. Aberdeen had to respect Groningen, they said.
The Dutch would respect Aberdeen, they echoed. The sentiment deepened after the goalless Pittodrie draw last Thursday which makes tonight's second leg in the Euroborg stadium difficult to predict.
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But respect has taken on a broader, sombre meaning since the first leg. When Aberdeen flew into the Netherlands yesterday they arrived in a country which was in an official day of national mourning.
The loss of 193 Dutch lives in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster continued to consume the country and military planes carrying the remains of 30 of the victims landed at Eindhoven airbase yesterday, 160 miles south of Groningen.
Seven nights ago the coach of FC Groningen, Erwin van der Looi, expressed himself satisfied with his team's 0-0 first leg result in Aberdeen. He then promised a difficult night for the Scots because of the "noisy" atmosphere his clubs supporters would generate in the 22,500-capacity Euroborg tonight.
Once the air tragedy has been suitably acknowledged before kick-off, and respect shown by both sets of supporters, the volume will rise and the atmosphere will kick-in, as loud as boisterous as van der Looi predicted. Not only did he predict it, he clearly wanted it. Every advantage must be seized upon by both sides, by both managers, when the first leg evidence suggested there was very little between Aberdeen and Groningen.
According to the UEFA club rankings Groningen are 184th and Aberdeen 320th but the 90 minutes between them so far demonstrated that the teams were of very similar strength. The Dutch struggled to deal with the bursting runs from deep from midfielder Peter Pawlett, but Derek McInnes's side had nothing to show for it. Groningen looked neat and tidy in midfield without showing much in the final third. As the game wore on they tired and their play became more ragged.
The overall impression was of a tie between two equals, which offered few clues about which of them would prevail. Real Sociedad await in the third qualifying round - there would still be a play-off round to clear before the group stage - so the prize on offer is highly lucrative.
When McInnes gave David Goodwillie his Aberdeen debut in the first leg it was as a substitute, replacing Adam Rooney. He had not been tempted to use them both together, in a front two, because he did not feel it was necessary to chase the game. A goalless home draw was satisfactory because it denied Groningen an away goal. Tonight the dynamic is different. The longer the second leg stays at 0-0 the more anxious the Dutch will get about conceding to Aberdeen.
The odds favour a Groningen win, but there is too much respect around for anyone to be sure of it.