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Rangers’ devastating loss could be the dawn of a golden era

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288 days and 19 matches after their miraculous European journey began, Rangers were denied the fitting finale their euphoric adventure deserved.

The Ibrox side ultimately fell agonisingly short of claiming their first European trophy for 50 years against Oliver Glasner’s Frankfurt, but it would be an injustice to downplay the remarkable achievement of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s men in reaching the final. Seville proved one step too far for the men in blue and while the pain of this excruciating defeat will live with staff, players and fans for a generation to come, this by no means marks the end of the road; on the contrary, it’s only the beginning.

The fallen giant back on its feet

To comprehend the scale of Rangers’ accomplishment we must take ourselves back to their darkest day a decade ago. In 2012 Rangers were a fallen giant, embarking from one miserable scenario to the next, humiliated, downtrodden, clinging on for dear life at the foot of Scottish football. Fast forward six years and not all that much had changed; financial instability, seven managers in and out the door, 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 thumpings at the hands of bitter rivals, European football a deluded fantasy. Even as recently as February 2020, murmurings of discontent rung around Ibrox, ‘Is Gerrard the man to stop 10 in a row?’. Rangers answered that question emphatically.

The loyal Govan support believed claiming a 55th title in an undefeated league campaign to stop their rival’s historic tenth in as many years was as good as it could possibly get, but this season has defied all expectations. Their voyage across the continent has been unprecedented in the context of modern football. A starting lineup assembled for no more than £13 million decimating Dortmund, ravaging Red Star, battering Braga and laying waste to Leipzig, it’s completely farcical. Before a ball was kicked no one would’ve picked this team to make it to Seville. They faced seemingly insurmountable odds according to odds sourced from Compare.bet. It’s impossible for any Rangers fan to hide their bitter disappointment right now but to come within a single spot-kick of lifting the trophy after ten years of turmoil must rank amongst the greatest accomplishments in Scottish football history.

A truly unforgettable journey

Few clubs around the world can claim to have as devout support as that of the blue half of Glasgow. Over 100,000 made the trip to Seville to see the culmination of this historic run and what a journey it was to get there.

Rangers needed to bounce back after humiliation against Hibs in the cup and beat Sparta Prague by two clear goals to guarantee passage into the knockouts. In a do or die scenario, the infamous Ibrox crowd rallied the troops and talisman Alfredo Morelos delivered. His brace sent Gers through for the third season in a row to get Gio’s reign off to the perfect start.

Next up were German giants Borussia Dortmund and even the most optimistic of Rangers fans would’ve admitted this was probably the end of the road. But that ominous forecast never came to pass. The Scots stunned the Westfallenstadion running out 4-2 victors sending the Gers into dreamland in Deutschland. Captain James Tavernier starred in a defiant 2-2 draw in the return leg that ensured Rangers’ place in the last-16, the prominent powerhouse sent packing.

Red Star Belgrade laid in wait but Rangers blew them away. A dominant 3-0 first-leg win was too much to overturn for the Serbians, even in the hostile Rajko Mitic Stadium. Eight remained and when Braga was drawn from the hat, fans dared to dream. It required another memorable night under the lights from the Ibrox faithful to see their depleted side overturn the first-leg deficit but they got the job done. Roofe’s tap-in from close range sent the fans into frenzy and Rangers into their first European semi-final for 14 years.

Dortmund, Belgrade, Braga, all despatched. ‘Who’s next?’ was the rallying cry as a fearless aura washed over fans and players alike. Leipzig were the final hurdle, 1-0 down after the first leg, but this group of players simply don’t give in. Three goals from Tavernier, Glen Kamara and Jon Lundstram in one of the most emotionally charged atmospheres Europe has ever seen etched the occasion into Rangers folklore. The final whistle came, and bedlam ensued. ‘Make us dream’ was the plea, and there’s no doubting these heroes did just that.

A turning point for Rangers?

The desolation of defeat in the final at first glance looks like it could have devastating implications for the club; missing out on automatic qualification for the Champions League and the subsequent £40 million cash injection chief among them. There is also the very real possibility of several key players moving on this summer; Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos, Joe Aribo, and Calvin Bassey to name a few. But don’t fret Rangers fans, there is still plenty of reason for optimism.

The Bears have made in excess of £20 million from this European run and still have a shot at making the Champions League group stages this August. The manager has more than justified the board’s decision to bring him in, masterminding Rangers’ route to the final using only the players he inherited from his predecessor. The former Feyenoord man displayed exceptional tactical prowess in the latter stages of this season, getting Rangers past the big guns with an unenviable injury list and no recognised striker at his disposal. The likes of Lundstram, Bassey, Kent and Europa League top-scorer Tavernier have been utterly transformed, the latter three justifiably making it into the Europa League team of the season.

Rangers’ recruitment over the past three years has been nothing short of sensational and the notion of Gio having a whole summer to bring in his own men to strengthen the squad is a mouth-watering prospect. The lure of Champions League football, the unrivalled atmosphere and what Van Bronckhorst is building will certainly sway players to walk back through the doors of Ibrox for another crack next season with plenty more onlookers keen to get involved themselves. Rangers don’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel anymore, they’re where they rightfully belong, back in the big time!