Rangers face up to dramatic Europa League cliffhanger as Celtic clash failings happen all over again in Braga

Braga made an Rs of their pre-match tifo but pulled off a result which spells trouble for Rangers’ Europa League ambitions.

The home support managed to make a month of unveiling a huge banner before kick-off.

The fans holding up the R only had one job but somehow managed to unfurl the 15-foot sign upside down.

Their team on the other hand had their heads well and truly screwed on the right way, putting on a thoroughly professional display as they grabbed a first-leg lead which Rangers will need to untangle back at Ibrox next week if they are to write their names into the semi-final mix.

It’s fitting that on a stadium carved into the side of a mountain, Gio van Bronckhorst’s men were left facing up to a dramatic cliffhanger after Abel Ruiz swept past Allan McGregor to spoil the keeper’s 100th Euro outing for the Ibrox club.

It might have been an even worse evening, with Braga also hitting the post before having a goal chalked off after a VAR check.

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Rangers have enjoyed some run of luck with the telly officials this season, benefiting from replay reviews against Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade in the previous two rounds.

They got away with another and that could yet be a decisive factor.

Just like Sunday’s defeat to Celtic, Rangers lacked a cutting edge but the 7000 traveling supporters perched in the top tier of one of the stadium’s two touchline stands trudged out thinking a one-goal defeat was not a bad result given their sloppy first-half showing .

There were some strong parallels to their last visit to Portugal’s oldest city.

Like two years ago, Gers arrived without Alfredo Morelos – with a season-ending injury rather than suspension this time counting Gers’ Euro talisman out of action – and on the back of a catastrophic league result which left their title dreams in tatters.

This time, though, they were having to pick themselves up off the floor after a devastating derby defeat to Celtic rather than a damaging draw away to St Johnstone.

And the similarities didn’t extend to the manner of their defensive display. Back then, the Ibrox side put in a display as solid as the old rock behind the goals to repel the Portuguese outfit.

This time, they were as porous as chalkstone as they failed to hear repeated warnings.

The shellshocked look borne by the Ibrox side at time-up on Sunday told the story of a team whose confidence has been battered and broken by repeated league lapses.

In Europe, however, Rangers have used their steel-clad resolve to shield themselves from the best that Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade had to throw at them as they charged to the last eight. But it quickly became evident they were struggling to shake off their Old Firm anguish.

Had Fashion Sakala taken a huge chance within five minutes, the first half may have gone in a different direction.

But when keeper Matheus spilled the ball after racing out to block Ryan Kent’s attempt to catch a lofted Scott Arfield pass, the Zambian fluffed his finish.

It would be his only faux pas in front of goal but that was a massive moment and you have to wonder if Rangers will live to regret it.

Van Bronckhorst has been forced to experiment again up front as he searches for the answer to his Morelos problem but the former Oostende frontman – unconvincing in the box and unreliable outball outside it – doesn’t appear to be the solution.

Rangers started nervously and that only encouraged the hosts.

Connor Goldson was lucky to get away with a hat-trick of stray passes in the first 20 minutes while Glen Kamara was no better at holding onto possession. Then in 25 minutes Gers got two huge lucky breaks within 60 seconds.

First James Tavernier failed to spot the danger in behind as the ball reached Rodrigo Gomes. Goldson rushed out to block his pass to Ruiz but Ricardo Horta pounced on the loose ball, sweeping a low drive off the post before it bounced clear.

Braga’s Abel Ruiz celebrates after making it 1-0 against Rangers

The next came as VAR – not for the first time during this Euro run – rescued Rangers as a deflected goal from Horta’s younger brother Andre was chalked off when the telly officials spotted Fabiano dragging his studs down Ryan Jack’s leg in the build up.

Braga had to hold their own breath on a couple of times as Jack sent Kent and then Sakala racing in behind but neither could take advantage. But five minutes before the break, Rangers’ luck ran out. It was a howler from Leon Balogun as he swiped at fresh air, allowing Iuri Medeiros’ cross to reach Ruiz, who punished error with a clinical finish beyond McGregor at the near post.

A half-time rejig saw van Bronckhorst shunt John Lundstram back into a three-man defense when Braga were in possession. It did the trick, limiting the opportunities for Carvalhal’s team to puncture holes in the Ibrox backline.

But it did put the breaks on some of the visitors’ own forward thrust.

When they did manage to break into Braga territory, Goldson met a Tavernier corner with a free header which floated just wide to add to the sense of frustration. McGregor only had one save to make in the second half but did the necessary, pushing Andre Horta’s drive behind for a corner.

Rangers threw caution to the win in the final five minutes but there was no way through for Bassey as his effort after being teed up by Lundstram was blocked.

As the final whistle reverberated around Braga’s cliff-edge home, Rangers realized they may not have a mountain to climb but it’s certainly an uphill battle if they are to take their place in the last four.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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