Aberdeen's Derek McInnes relishing Europa League unknown

Aberdeen assistant Tony Docherty and manager Derek McInnes at Aberdeen Airport
McInnes (right) led his side to second in the Premiership
Europa League first qualifying round, first leg: Shkendija v Aberdeen
Venue: Philip II Arena, Skopje Date: Thursday, 2 July Kick-off: 20:05 BST
Coverage: BBC Sport website

Derek McInnes admits that he is entering the unknown on Thursday - both about his own team and their opponents - but insists that is the beauty of European competition's early stages.

McInnes' Aberdeen have travelled to Macedonia to take on Shkendija in the Europa League's first qualifying round.

"Sometimes going into the unknown is part of the excitement, for supporters and players," said the Dons manager.

"I feel we're ready, but until the first game your really never know."

Aberdeen thrashed Scottish League One outfit Brechin City 8-2 in last Thursday's first open pre-season friendly before beating fellow Europa League qualifiers St Johnstone 1-0 on Sunday.

"It wasn't a long break for the players," said McInnes. "We've had three games now - one closed-door game and two games, the toughest one being the last against St Johnstone.

"I feel the players are physically in good nick."

Shkendija, who won the Macedonian title for the first time in 2011, finished third last season but have failed to win a European tie in three attempts.

However, returning coach Shpetim Duro has added four Macedonia internationals to his squad during the summer.

Besart Ibraimi in action for Schalke
Forward Besart Ibraimi, once of Schalke, is one of Shkendija's better-known players

"It is always difficult to gauge exactly where the opposition are in Europe, but I think they are obviously a team who have got a lot of ambition," said McInnes.

"Financially, they've invested a lot in the team - a few new signings on top of the team that did well for them last year."

Shkendija were established to represent players and fans of Albanian descent and McInnes is expecting his side to face a "passionate team".

"We want to make sure this is not the only trip we have, but to do that we're going to have to make sure we manage the game well," he said.

"We don't need to make it too exciting over there. We need to make sure we get a foothold in the game and try not to give them too much encouragement.

"Having the second leg at Pittodrie, if we can get a positive result tomorrow night then that will make things more easy for us."

Last season, Aberdeen defeated Daugava Riga of Latvia and Groningen of the Netherlands before falling short of the group stage with defeat by Spanish side Real Sociedad.

Asked if the group stage was a target this time, McInnes stressed that he was not even thinking about Rijeka of Croatia, their opponents should they progress to the next round.

"To do that, you need to be a bit lucky in the draws and put in some strong performances," he added.

"The draw's not been too kind to us this time round and there's a tough one awaiting the winner of this one."

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