Rangers have become so accustomed to scaling heights in Europe that there would be bruised egos to match a bruised balance sheet if Union St-Gilloise terminate their Champions League involvement at the qualifying stage.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team, Europa League finalists in May, must cancel out a 2-0 deficit at Ibrox on Tuesday after an error-strewn showing in Belgium. USG have only featured in European competition once before, in the Fairs Cup of 1964-65.
To Van Bronckhorst’s credit, he has not attempted to sugarcoat what transpired last week. The Rangers manager is, however, adamant there will be no repeat. “I have never seen my players more disappointed after a game,” he said.
“We have a chance now to overturn that and make sure we have a better performance. I am sure we are capable and [that] you will see a different team to what you saw last week.
“If you are playing in Europe you cannot have an off night. The level we reached last week is not what we normally reach or have to reach to be competitive in the Champions League. We always have confidence, no matter who we play at home. The confidence is there. The objective and desire is still to be in the Champions League next week.” At that point, Monaco or PSV Eindhoven would provide the opposition.
Rangers have apparently taken note not only of exuberant celebrations by their Belgian opponents at full-time of the first leg but also comments attributed to USG’s Teddy Teuma. The midfielder suggested the Ibrox atmosphere “is not a problem” for he and his teammates.
“You can use whatever motivation you need, everyone is different, but we certainly have all seen it,” the Rangers midfielder John Lundstram said. “We certainly all know it’s there. It’s a touch disrespectful, if you want to say that. We are all ready for this game. We just need to turn up and we will.
“They are coming to a really tough place. I am not sure they have really taken that on board yet, where they are coming to and what a big venue it is. We are just raring to go, we can’t wait to get out there and put right where we disappointed ourselves last week.”
Knockout results from last season largely back up Lundstram’s boldness. Rangers saw off Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig in Glasgow during their run to the final. The warning is served by Malmo, who bundled Rangers out of the Champions League almost a year ago to the day with a 2-1 success at Ibrox.
“Last week wasn’t good enough, we feel that as much as the fans do,” added Lundstram. “We know what is expected of us as Rangers players.”
A broader picture is significant. Celtic’s automatic qualification for the group phase of the Champions League offers them a financial boost Rangers can only keep pace with, for starters, by defeating USG. The Europa League may be a more natural habitat for both halves of the Old Firm but the riches of the Champions League can dictate, for example, signing policy.
Lundstram stopped short of confirming this is a tie that will shape Rangers’ season. “European wise, of course our aim is to get into the Champions League,” said the 28-year-old. “That is what we have wanted for a couple of seasons and, going forward, this whole league campaign is gearing towards winning the league and qualifying automatically.
“Of course it is a big moment for ourselves, we all want to be playing Champions League. The whole fanbase, the whole club, wants that. What football player doesn’t? But in terms of season defining, it is completely different to the league campaign. We want to win the league, that is what Rangers Football Club always aspires to do, but of course we want to play in the Champions League as well.”
Van Bronckhorst will make a last-minute decision on the availability of Ryan Kent, who trained on Monday upon return from injury.