A fitting tribute to a much-missed legend
On what would have been Walter Smith’s 74th birthday, this was a performance which would have earned the approval of the Rangers managerial great whose death last October was so painfully felt by everyone connected with the club.
Smith would certainly have applauded the tactical insight of current boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst whose half-time switch in system and personnel, replacing Borna Barisic with Leon Balogun and moving to a back three which John Lundstram dropped into from midfield, altered the momentum of a tie which had seemed to be swinging clearly in Dortmund’s favour.
Rangers immediately looked more robust defensively, having been uncertain and too open in the first half as goals from the superb Jude Bellingham and lively Donyell Malan saw Dortmund recover from James Tavernier’s 22nd minute penalty kick.
The reboot of van Bronckhorst’s strategy also provided Rangers with better control in midfield and additional threat on the flanks with Calvin Bassey and Tavernier operating as wing-backs, their combination for the captain’s second goal of the night firmly nipping Dortmund’s revival in the bud.
A step too VAR
Rangers can be generally satisfied with the impact of VAR over the two legs of the tie, the TV review system having played a key role in two of their goals in the 4-2 win at the Westfalen Stadium last week.
But they were left bemused by his intervention at Ibrox as a 67th minute ‘goal’ from Ryan Kent was eventually ruled out by Spanish referee Antonio Lahoz after he was called upon to look at the pitchside monitor.
Alfredo Morelos was penalized for impeding Emre Can as he robbed the Dortmund player of possession before setting Kent up to score. It seems Lahoz was not shown the most compelling angles of the incident, in which Can clearly kicked the back of Morelos’ leg. Even if the Rangers striker did cut across Can’s path, the decision was incredibly harsh and seemed only to excuse the Dortmund man’s slackness and lack of awareness.
UEFA fine incoming for Dortmund
A pulsating atmosphere at Ibrox was helped by the noise and color of 2800 Borussia Dortmund fans who complemented the thunderous backing Rangers received from the home support.
But there was a sour note struck before kick off by a section of the traveling punters who charged aggressively towards the Rangers fans in the Broomloan Road Stand, forcing police officers to step in and restore order. The use of flares among the Dortmund supporters will also have been noted by the UEFA delegate and Borussia can expect disciplinary action to be taken against them.
Rangers (4-2-3-1): McGregor 7, Tavernier 9, Goldson 6, Bassey 8, Barisic 5 (Balogun 46 7); Jack 7, Lundstram 7; Arfield 6 (Kamara 69 5), Aribo 7, Kent 7; Morelos 7. Subs not used: McCrorie, McLaughlin, Diallo, Davis, Sands, Wright, Roofe, Sakala, King, Lowry.
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Kobel 6, Meunier 5 (Wolf 46 6), Can 5, Hummels 5, Schulz 6; Dahoud 7, Bellingham 8; Brandt 7 (Moukoko 69 6), Reus 6 (Witsel 86), Hazard 6 (Reinier 69 5); Malen 7 (Tigges 77). Subs not used: Unbehaun, Hitz, Guerreiro, Passlack, Pongracic.
Referee: Antonio Lahoz (Spain)
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.