History was made in the often-ignored Europa League on Wednesday after Rangers FC became the first club ever to reach the Round of 16 after starting their campaign in the competition’s First Qualifying Round that same year. The club reached this milestone after they successfully eliminated SC Braga 4-2 over two legs.
Led by former Liverpool captain turned manager Steven Gerrard, the blue boys from Glasgow had to maneuver down a road wrought with tough competition while also taking part in regular Scottish football competition. They started their Europa League campaign around the time when most clubs were either in training or still on summer break; playing their first contest in the First Qualifying Round against St. Joseph’s FC, a club based on the small island of Gibraltar.
After staving them off 4-0 and later 6-0, “The Gers” continued on to the second qualifying round where they took on Europa League qualifying round regular, Luxembourg side Progres Niederkorn. And while they did defeat them 2-0 over two legs, it did appear that they may have run out of steam, as their attacking effort seemed to be slightly sputtering.
Those fears would be somewhat quelled after they put 7 in the back of the net over a two-game goal-scoring fest against Danish giant Midtjylland, a side that may be most well known for defeating Manchester United at home during the 2015-16 Europa League Round of 32. They would not be as lucky against Rangers, as they went down 7-3 on aggregate.
After next defeating Legia Warsaw in the final qualifying round 1-0, the boys from Rangers found themselves in their second Europa League group stage appearance in a row. The last time they made it, they finished third behind Villarreal and Rapid Wien. This year they were sorted with Dutch side Feyenoord, defending Swiss Super League champions Young Boys, and former Europa and Champions League champions FC Porto for Portugal.
And while they did struggle to win games, ending up with only 2, they did do well enough to eek past Young Boys to finish second in the group and earn a ticket to the Europa League’s Round of 32 where they would take on the aforementioned SC Braga, also from Portugal.
The Rangers were able to edge out their Portuguese adversaries during a thrilling first leg at the Ibrox in Glasgow last week, thankfully behind two goals from Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi, and Joe Aribo all happening after Braga found themselves 2 goals up midway through the second half.
Conversely, it only took one beautiful goal from former Liverpool castaway Ryan Kent to lead Rangers past Braga during the second leg on Wednesday. And with that, Rangers became the first Scottish club to win each leg of a European knockout matchup since Celtic did during the 2002-03 Europa League. That Celtic side, by the way, would eventually reach the final where they would eventually lose 3-2 to Jose Mourinho and Porto.
We will not know for sure which club will take on Rangers in the Round of 16, but with the remaining field as strong and interesting as it is, it’s safe to say that things are about to get even more interesting for Stevie G and the blue boys from Glasgow.
Here are the remaining Europa League clubs, not counting Rangers, in alphabetical order. Which club do you want to see Rangers take on in the next round?
- Ajax – Netherlands
- APOEL – Cyprus
- Arsenal – England
- AS Roma – Italy
- AZ – Netherlands
- Bayer Leverkusen – Germany
- Benfica – Portugal
- Celtic FC – Scotland
- CFR Cluj – Romania
- Club Brugge – Belgium
- Eintracht Frankfurt – Germany
- Espanyol – Spain
- FC Basel – Switzerland
- FC Copenhagen – Denmark
- FC Porto – Portugal
- Getafe – Spain
- Inter Milan – Italy
- Istanbul Basaksehir – Turkey
- KAA Gent – Belgium
- LASK – Austria
- Ludogorets Razgrad – Bulgaria
- Malmo FF – Sweden
- Manchester United – England
- Olympiacos – Greece
- Red Bull Salzburg – Austria
- Sevilla FC – Spain
- Shakhtar Donetsk – Ukraine
- Sporting CP – Portugal
- VfL Wolfsburg – Germany
- Wolverhampton Wanderers – England
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Featured Photo Credit – SkySports.com