ABERDEEN produced one of the finest Scottish performances in Europe in years with a stunning win in Croatia to kill off this second qualifying round tie after the first leg.
Derek McInnes’ side romped to a hugely impressive success thanks to headers either side of the interval from Andrew Considine and Peter Pawlett before substitute Kenny McLean sealed a famous win.
The likes of Europa League holders Sevilla had visited Rijeka’s Kantrida Stadium and failed to win, while Feyenoord and Standard Liege were defeated last season.
But a superb display from the Dons handed the Croatians their first home defeat in Europe for 12 games and they were even applauded off at the end by the impressed home fans.
It means Derek McInnes’ men will now almost certainly cruise through to the third qualifying round and will await today’s draw with huge interest, since they will now be seeded.
It was a measured, mature display from Aberdeen who soaked up plenty of pressure and were clinical on the counter-attack.
McInnes caused a major surprise in his team selection by dropping prolific scorer Adam Rooney to the bench in favour of David Goodwillie. Paul Quinn also made his first start for the club, with Aberdeen opting for five at the back.
Although the sweltering temperatures had dipped slightly, it was still in the low 30s by kick- off in the spectacular setting of Rijeka’s Kantrida Stadium, squeezed in between the cliff face and the Adriatic Sea and hosting its penultimate game before the Croats move into a new stadium.
The 300 Dons fans inside the sell-out crowd had an early fright when the visiting defence was carved open by a clever flick from Brazilian Moises and Marin Tomasov volleyed wide from close range.
And the Scots had an even bigger let-off in the ninth minute when Tomasov hit the post after darting ahead of Considine to meet Marin Leovac’s cross.
Danny Ward saved a long- range effort from Josip Radosevic, with Aberdeen pinned back deep in their half, before the on-loan Liverpool keeper made a decent stop from a flashing Moises header from a Tomasov corner.
Aberdeen now started to assert themselves and there were increasing shouts of frustration from the home fans as their favourites failed to turn their possession into meaningful opportunities.
And the visitors took a shock lead seven minutes from the interval from a corner.
Niall McGinn’s deep cross was met by Considine at the back post and the defender powered in a peach of a header to give Aberdeen a precious away goal.
They nearly doubled their lead two minutes from the break when Pawlett saw his header from a Jonny Hayes cross ruled out for offside.
But Pawlett wasn’t to be denied and grabbed Aberdeen’s second goal eight minutes after the break. Shay Logan bombed down the right flank before delivering a superb cross. Pawlett stooped low to head the ball into the net from 15 yards out to spark off huge celebrations among the visiting support.
Again, he looked suspiciously offside, but Aberdeen didn’t care and it caused a crescendo of whistling from the stunned locals.
Hayes then curled a free-kick just wide as Aberdeen looked to kill off the tie. Hayes then saw a header saved by Rijeka keeper Ivan Vargic.
The Dons finished Rijeka off well and truly by rattling in a remarkable third in the 75th minute after another excellent move. Logan and Goodwillie teamed up before the former Dundee United striker teed up substitute McLean to volley in his first goal for Aberdeen since joining from St Mirren.
Rijeka: Vargic; Tomecak, Samardzic, Leovac, Leskovic; Tomasov (Kvrzic 46), Radosevic (Bezjak 56), Bradaric (Mocinic 73); Sharbini, Balaj, Moises. Subs not used: Sluga, Ristovski, Mitrovic, Jugovic.
Aberdeen: Ward; Logan, Taylor, Quinn, Considine, Hayes; McGinn (McLean 69), Shinnie, Jack, Pawlett (Flood 63); Goodwillie (Rooney 83). Subs not used: Brown, Smith, Rose, Wright.