Friday, August 19, 2022

On The Cusp of Greatness For Bronckhorst’s Rangers

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Kenny Stewart
Chief Football writer for The 4th Official. Always honest and won't shy away from the truth.

Note: This article was published first on The 4th Official Patreon.

Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it? In little over twenty four hours, Rangers will play Red Bull Leipzig in the Europa League semi-final first leg in Germany.

In a season where most people and even the most optimistic of Celtic fans would’ve expected Rangers to be fairly comfortable in the Scottish Premier League, it’s Rangers’ city rivals that look like they’re about to win the title.

Too many draws have cost Rangers domestically, and there’s no getting away from that. Consecutive losses to Celtic in the league have put them behind the eight ball. Celtic host Rangers in the league on Sunday, and it is now an absolute must win for the men from Ibrox.

If they can get a victory at Celtic Park, then it at least means they’re forcing the league leaders to actually go out and win the league in their last three games.

If they can achieve that, then you just never know, stranger things have happened, but it is simple, really. Celtic need to drop points in three of their last four games, while Rangers need to take maximum points in the remainder of their league games.

A tough proposition indeed, but strangely something that’s quite secondary in most Rangers fans’ thoughts.

A European semi-final doesn’t come around very often at all, yet here Rangers are with the scintillating prospect of two games against another German giant.

Tomorrow evening Rangers go into the cauldron of the Red Bull Arena with a genuine possibility of reaching their second European final in fourteen years if they can muster another miracle performance in the tie.

Make no mistake, RB Leipzig are a fantastic football team. Sitting fourth in the Bundesliga with some tremendous players at their disposal. All in all, it’s a very tough tie for Rangers, yet here I am feeling excitement and stupidly positive in regards to Rangers’ prospects of getting into the final in Seville next month.

Leipzig are favourites; of course, they are. Despite that Rangers have proven time and again at that level they’re more than comfortable and can compete with any team they’ve come up against.

Can Rangers win the tie? Yes, absolutely. Having beaten Borussia Dortmund in the Play-Off round, they’ve already recorded a victory against arguably a better side than RB Leipzig. The German side will surely not underestimate Rangers in perhaps the same way Dortmund did in the first leg in the Signal Iduna Park.

What a prospect in store over the next week. If Rangers can manage to keep the tie alive, then next week at Ibrox will be a sight to behold.

Ibrox on a Thursday night has been the place to be in the Europa League in the last few seasons. No team has turned up and had it easy while the atmosphere in the ground has been raucous, loud and intimidating for most teams.

That has to be the aim tomorrow night for Rangers. Go there, play as well as they can and come back with the tie alive, setting up a momentous occasion in Glasgow next Thursday night.

I’m nervous, excited and honestly can’t wait for this game tomorrow. Strangely it’s put the game at Parkhead into a distant second place in my order of priorities. That game will take care of itself, but Rangers have much bigger fish to fry this week. As I said earlier, European semi finals don’t come around too often and it quite rightly takes precedence over the game on Sunday.

Sadly Rangers will be without Morelos, Ramsay, Roofe, Helander and Hagi for the biggest game Scottish football has seen since 2008, but I have faith in this squad of players in this competition. They’ve surpassed themselves repeatedly on this stage, and it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if they got through this tie despite it being against a side from one of the top leagues in Europe with a substantially larger budget.

In the knockout stages so far, Rangers have dispatched Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade and SC Braga to get to this stage of the competition. And they’ve done so with aplomb that suggests this team will handle the occasion tomorrow night and next Thursday’s second leg of course.

Make no mistake, Rangers are a very good team, as results at this level allude to. It makes it all the more bizarre to see how inconsistent they’ve been in Scotland this season.

Covid issues, injuries, and a change of management halfway through the season haven’t helped, of course, but those dropped points in the league are a mystery, to be honest.

If they had dropped a couple of points here and there then yes, that happens over the course of the season. The number of draws however has been a source of annoyance for the Rangers support simply because that inconsistency has been habitual from the off this season.

Yet here Rangers are, on the cusp of a European final, in the Scottish Cup final, having disposed of Celtic in the semi final at Hampden Park last Sunday. And yes as I said, they are actually still in with a quiet shout of the league title but only if they can get a win at Celtic Park this weekend.

It’ll take a collapse from Celtic and I doubt very much that’ll happen but you can never take anything for granted.

What a week lies in store for everyone connected to Rangers. Starting tomorrow in Germany then onto Sunday in a must win game, then the return leg against Leipzig next Thursday night. Three of the biggest games you’re ever likely to see in Scotland over the course of the next seven days.

If Rangers can get through this Europa League tie then it’s either West Ham United or Eintracht Frankfurt that await them in the final. My hunch is it’ll be West Ham, but that’s likely only because I see more of them than Frankfurt.

You don’t get bad teams at this level, you really don’t. Twelve teams remain in this elite club. Those clubs are Manchester City, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Villareal, RB Leipzig, West Ham United, Eintracht Frankfurt, Leicester City, Roma, Marseille, Feyenoord and Rangers. There’s no coincidence that eleven out of those twelve clubs come from the six richest leagues on the continent.

Clubs from Scotland simply aren’t supposed to get the privilege of participating at this elite stage of European competitions. Every decision UEFA make is designed to make it easier for those clubs in the big five nations that qualify to participate to get as far as they can in European competitions.

That’s why what Rangers have achieved here should be lauded in this country, but it isn’t. A lack of acknowledgement from the Scottish media has been noticeable and laughable in equal measure.

I would love nothing more than to see Rangers reach this final and force the TV and radio stations along with the print media to actually praise them for doing so well but hey, it’s Rangers so they really don’t want to concede that what Rangers have achieved this season is nothing short of remarkable. All the more remarkable when you take their start to their European campaign into account.

A little bit of praise when it’s deserved wouldn’t go amiss but the sports media in Scotland is dying on its backside and the reason for that is staring them in the face.

They have their favourites and they have their target audience, Rangers fans aren’t that audience so it isn’t at all surprising that they’re too busy wetting their knickers about referees or whatever the East End Party Line is for the week.

I for one can’t wait to see how this unfolds over the course of the next seven days. If Rangers do make the Europa League Final then I’d go as far as to say it’s the single biggest achievement from a Scottish team in my lifetime.

You don’t really get much bigger than this really and it would be nice for the rest of Scotland to acknowledge that but sadly it won’t happen.

They’ll be too busy talking up AngeBall and everything Celtic to even care that Rangers are flying the flag for Scottish football. The media and the people that follow football in this country really don’t like Rangers very much but that is nothing new of course.

The perfect example of that was last Sunday where Rangers deservedly beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi final but all we heard or read from the media in Scotland was about the referee.

The deflect tactic is there for all to see but it’ll be impossible to dismiss Rangers if they can get through this tie and end up in the final of a major European competition.

Rangers have put Scottish football on the map over the last few seasons, it’s about time the rest of the country started admitting that instead of gibbering on about whether a referee should’ve booked a Rangers player or not while totally ignoring the fact Rangers should’ve had two penalties in the same game they’ve had a fortnight long inquest into.

Scottish football and those that hang onto its coattails need to get a grip of themselves and stop pandering to the lowest common denominator.

There’s bigger and better things out there, there really is.

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