Many of a Rangers persuasion believe the club’s recovery from financial mismanagement will only be complete when the iconic Champions League anthem is reverberating around the stands of Ibrox Stadium once again.
2010 was the last time the Light Blues participated in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition. A Manchester United team containing Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney ended Scottish involvement with a narrow victory – and just two years later, rather than entertaining England’s most famous club, Rangers were hosting Peterhead in League 2.
The Champions League is where the Govan club aspires to be again, however they have a chance to take another significant step forward this evening against Red Star Belgrade in the last sixteen of the Europa League. It is a contest of monumental importance, and only twice have Rangers featured in the quarter-finals of a European competition in the last 30 years.
Rangers have negotiated the round of sixteen just once this century despite seven attempts. It’s a stage that has brought much anguish and despair, and they are unlikely to have a better opportunity to reach the business end of a European competition.
The battle for domestic supremacy is, as always, the overriding focus for both Old Firm clubs – especially with a Champions League bounty expected to be an additional prize for the winners this season. Comments have been made suggesting Rangers’ European excursions are an unwanted distraction, but that’s a parochial perspective – competing in continental competition is a privilege, never a chore.
Rangers manager Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
A Cup Winners Cup triumph 50 years ago remains the club’s most cherished victory. Title winners are fondly remembered, but as John Greig will testify, the ‘Barca Bears’ from 1972 are icons. A second European success has been coveted for decades, and every opportunity to realize a long-held ambition has to be vigorously pursued.
By Scottish standards, the Europa League is a lucrative competition. Rangers have earned over £ 7.2 million this season, and that figure does not include market pool revenue or ticket monies. A further £ 1.5 million is on offer to the winners of the last sixteen ties – around half the amount the Premiership champions can expect to collect in May.
Rangers’ league form gradually improved under the guidance of Steven Gerrard, but in Europe, he made an immediate impression. The former boss inherited a side positioned a lowly 262nd in the UEFA coefficient standings – located alongside Shakhtior Saligorsk – and oversaw a dramatic improvement. Due to a series of impressive results, the Ibrox club currently occupies the 38th spot, and they have the chance to climb even higher if they can dismiss the Serbians.
The Rangers players enjoy the freedom offered in the European arena. Ryan Kent flourishes in open spaces, Alfredo Morelos unnerves defences with his robust style, and James Tavernier is a constant threat with his boundless energy. Continental sides tend to adopt an aggressive approach against the Glasgow giants, and matches have a natural ebb and flow, common in the big five leagues yet rare in Scotland.
Unlike Borussia Dortmund, though, Red Star are built upon solid defensive foundations. They are a robust outfit, and they managed to top a Europa league group that included Braga. They are unlikely to adopt an expansive game-style in a bid to become the first Serbian team in over 30 years to reach the last eight of a European competition.
A keenly-contested affair is anticipated ahead of a lively encounter in Belgrade next week. Rangers took out Dortmund, the tournament favorites, and they will be determined to capitalize on their previous good work. Reaching the last eight is a realistic possibility, and it could be another memorable night under the lights in Govan.
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