Mission Accomplished: Rangers Lose In Belgrade, But The Quarter Finals Beckon

It wasn't easy, or pretty, but Rangers deservedly go through to the last eight of the Europa League
19:45, 17 Mar 2022

It was far from easy and perhaps even further from pretty, but Rangers got the job done against Red Star Belgrade. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side are through to the quarter finals of the Europa League, after a 2-1 defeat in Serbia made them 4-2 aggregate victors. Once again a string of quality saves from Allan McGregor proved decisive, as the European dream continues for the Gers. 

The pulsating atmosphere of the Marakana was a hostile place for Rangers to try and play their football. That unforgiving milieu seemed to imprint itself on the Scottish Champions early on. It took just ten minutes for Red Star Belgrade to chip away at the three-goal deficit.

A short corner isolated Ryan Kent, and Guelor Kanga whipped a perfect cross into the box. The Rangers defence switched off and Mirko Ivanic had time to chest the ball and finish well. Rangers looked shell-shocked, and Belgrade nearly capitalised again. Aleksandar Katai, such a threat in the first leg, threaded a slick ball to Ivanic. This time the Montenegro International was denied by a superb low save from Allan McGregor. 

Alfredo Morelos launched a one-man mission to try and restore Rangers’ three-goal lead. The striker tore through the Red Star midfield, but his pass towards Kent was read well by the home defence. Morelos then dragged a shot just wide, as it looked like Rangers were finding their footing.

The Scottish Premiership side remained shaky at the back though. A routine long ball had Folarin Balogun and Connor Goldson at sixes and sevens, and Milan Pavkov went close. Cristiano Piccini bent a shot towards McGregor’s top corner, but once again the veteran stopper was equal to it.

The second half started in the same vein. Another corner kick was allowed to penetrate the Rangers penalty area, and McGregor had to react quickly once more to palm it away. Ohi Omoijuanfo got the better of Calvin Bassey, but his pass towards Ivanic beat both McGregor and his intended target. Four minutes into the half, Rangers had survived two shaky moments already.

After a difficult beginning to the half, Ryan Kent settled the nerves with a vital goal to send Rangers 4-1 up on aggregate. A give and go in midfield opened up the space for Kent to run into, and his shot got a major deflection that saw it loop over Milan Borjan into the Red Star net.

Still Red Star were unbowed. Ivanic went close on two occasions, one shot going wide of the post and another calling McGregor into action. He was then needed again for a double save, as Kanga tested him from distance and El Fardou Ben fired the rebound straight at him. Across the two legs, McGregor had been a superb and unflappable presence in the Rangers goal. It is hard to see them progressing without him.

There was late drama as Kamara fouled Falco in the area two minutes into injury time. The Marakana is the stadium in which Antonin Panenka unleashed his spot kick creation upon the world, but El Fardou Ben finished with a regulation side-foot to put his side 2-1 up on the night.

Despite this late ray of hope, there was to be no grandstand finish from Red Star. The penalty gave them the chance to secure a face-saving victory on the night, but it is Rangers who will play in the quarter finals of the Europa League. They will hope to have Morelos back for that fixture, after the striker left the pitch injured ten minutes from the end. But van Bronckhorst can allow himself a wry smile tonight, knowing that this was that rarest of results. A loss that you can truly savour.

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