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It’s finally here. Tens of thousands of Rangers supporters are heading to Seville this week for what promises to be an historic day for the Scottish giants as they prepare to meet Eintracht Frankfurt for a shot at Europa League glory.
The number of fans heading from Glasgow to southern Spain will far exceed the 10,000 allocation afforded to Scottish fans at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium. Yet an occasion such as this will prove unmissable for a team with a fanbase as passionate as Rangers’.
For the first time since the Ibrox side's defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in the 2008 UEFA Cup final, a Scottish club are in the final of a European competition.
Rangers have the chance to claim just a second European trophy in their history and the first in 50 years since 1972’s Cup Winners’ Cup victory.
Symbolically, it will be near enough the tenth anniversary of Rangers’ demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish football that saw the Gers on the brink of liquidation, with the club this year celebrating 150 years since their formation in 1872.
From facing Peterhead at Balmoor in 2012 in the Scottish Third Division, they stand one game away from lifting a major European trophy and securing a place in the Champions League. Comeback stories don’t come much better than Rangers’.
And comebacks have been a recurring theme for Giovanni van Bronckhorst's men throughout what has been a topsy-turvy continental campaign.
After edging past Armenian side Alashkert in the qualifying, Rangers lost their opening two group-stage matches of the competition against Lyon and Sparta Prague.
Yet two wins and two draws in the final four games - during a period in which Steven Gerrard stepped down to be replaced by Van Bronckhorst - would see Rangers sneak through to the play-off round by a single point ahead of Sparta.
The might of Borussia Dortmund and the outstanding Erling Haaland would await them, but Rangers stunned the side who’d just dropped out of the Champions League, racing into a 3-0 lead at a quieter-than-usual Signal Iduna Park due to Covid restrictions in the first leg. They’d hold on to record a 6-4 aggregate win after the return fixture at Ibrox.
The round-of-16 tie saw them make home advantage tell against Red Star Belgrade and go on to win the tie 4-2 on aggregate, but in the quarters they would lose the first leg 1-0 away in Braga. Van Bronckhorst’s men led the Portuguese side 2-1 after 90 minutes in Glasgow to take the tie to extra time, where Kemar Roofe netted the winning goal to see them advance amid jubilant scenes.
And most dramatically of all, Rangers would meet RB Leipzig in the semi-finals where they’d lose the first leg in Germany with a late winner from Angelino. Cue a thriller at a deafening Ibrox that saw Rangers go 2-0 up, concede with 19 minutes left and settle the tie through John Lundstram in the 83rd minute to send the Scots to Seville.
The Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, as it prepares to host a European final for the first time since 1986, can expect a special, special atmosphere on Wednesday night. Rangers supporters at Ibrox against RB Leipzig were so loud they literally left the stadium rocking as one camera operator discovered on the night.
The incredible Rangers support, as it has time and time again this season, will provide the Scots with a massive boost heading into a final where they remain the underdogs.
Another boost though has come in the return from injury of Aaron Ramsey. The on-loan Juventus midfielder has not featured for Rangers as much as he’d have liked, but the Welshman has proved throughout his career with Arsenal and Wales that he’s the man for the big occasion.
Forward Roofe though will be a “close call” to make the final, according to Van Brockhorst. The forward hasn’t played since April 17 in the Scottish Cup semi-final triumph against Celtic and his absence could leave the Rangers manager once again seeking creative solutions on who to play up top against Frankfurt.
With Alfredo Morelos out for the rest of the season, Rangers’ goals in Europe have repeatedly come from right wing-back James Tavernier.
The 30-year-old has always been a threat in the opposition box, but this season he’s outfired everyone else in the competition and heads into the final as the Europa League’s top scorer. Remarkably, all seven of Tavernier’s 2021/22 Europa League goals have come in the knockout stages.
Now Rangers will look to overcome a German side for the third time this season in Europe when they meet an Eintracht Frankfurt side who head to Spain as comfortable favourites.
The Germans are in poor form domestically, having failed to win any of their final eight matches en route to a disappointing 11th-placed finish in the Bundesliga.
Yet in Europe it’s been a different story. Frankfurt have yet to lose in the competition and overcame Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham to qualify for Wednesday night’s final.
Former stars of Europa League campaigns Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic may be long gone, but Frankfurt still play with a free-flowing attack that can hurt anyone in the competition, as Barca and West Ham discovered to their detriment.
Daichi Kamada’s goal at the London Stadium was a showcase of Frankfurt’s brilliant approach play as the Germans scythed through the West Ham defence before teeing up the Japanese forward to score.
Kamada has five goals in the Europa League this term, while midfielder Filip Kostic has weighed in with three goals and three assists of his own for Oliver Glasner’s side.
“When we started this journey, we didn’t expect it to end at the final,” Glasner admitted. And you can perhaps see why. Frankfurt only avoided penalties against Betis thanks to a 121st-minute winner right at the death of extra time.
“Our unity is our greatest strength because we have a great team spirit in the squad,” the Austrian said. “We are really organised and we can play physical football at a very high intensity.”
That is reflected in Frankfurt’s poor disciplinary record in the competition. The Germans have been shown 25 yellow cards, resulting in two second-yellow red cards, in 12 Europa League games this season.
It’s something Van Bronckhorst may well look to exploit as he prepares to unsettle a Frankfurt team who frustrated and outplayed Barcelona at Camp Nou this term.
“We’re facing strong opponents,” the Rangers coach said. “They’ve played so many good games in Europe against some great teams as well…
“We’ve shown we can handle pressure in big games because we’ve had a lot of pressure this season. When you’re in the knockout stages, it’s all or nothing, and the character of my players has been outstanding.”
It promises to be an emotional, intense final in Seville as Rangers bid to make history and complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent football memory.
Watch the action exclusively live on BT Sport with coverage from the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan beginning at 6.30pm on BT Sport 1 HD and BT Sport Ultimate.