MADRID: Ten years after financial oblivion plunged them into Scotland's bottom tier, Rangers are on the brink of lifting their first European trophy in half a century as they meet Eintracht Frankfurt in the final of the Europa League on Wednesday.
Administration, liquidation and relegation all blighted a broken club in 2012 but if the Rangers recovery was complete when they won the Scottish Premiership again last season, a final in Seville now offers them a shot at European glory too.
“We’re one game away from making history,“ Rangers midfielder Aaron Ramsey said on Monday as the squad departed for Spain, the final leg of a journey that began eight months ago in defeat and disappointment.
With the chance to play in the Champions League on the back of winning the Scottish title, Rangers instead lost to Malmo in the third qualifying round, a result that set up a play-off to reach the Europa League with Alashkert from Armenia.
There were more prestigious opponents to come as Rangers, under Giovanni van Bronckhorst from November after Steven Gerrard left for Aston Villa, defeated Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and Leipzig in the knock-out rounds to reach their first European final in 14 years.
A victory would earn the club its first cup on the continent since Rangers beat Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in Barcelona to lift the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972.
“This is a chance for them to be in the history books of this club and really get an historic win,“ sad Van Bronckhorst.
“Then the stories they will tell in years to come will be the same stories that the players from 1972 tell to my players.
“I’ve said it before you have to dream of something to really achieve it. You can work hard and really give everything to achieve your goal and that is beautiful.”
Frankfurt will start the match as favourites after already knocking out Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham to elevate an otherwise underwhelming campaign that saw the team finish 11th in the Bundesliga.
It will be Frankfurt's first European final since beating Borussia Moenchengladbach to win the UEFA Cup in 1980 while the club retains happy memories of games against Rangers, after thrashing the Glasgow side 12-4 on aggregate in the semi-finals of the European Cup 20 years before.
“They were the best team I’d ever seen in my life,“ said Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager who was in the crowd at Hampden. “And then they got slaughtered 7-3 by Real Madrid in the final.”
The crowd are expected to play a huge part at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with up to 100,000 Rangers fans and at least 60,000 Frankfurt supporters expected to follow their teams to Seville, raising concerns about security in the city.
Frankfurt fans clashed with West Ham fans in Seville when the teams crossed there in March while Rangers' last European final against Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester, in the UEFA Cup in 2008, was marred by violence as 39 people were arrested and riot police had to be called.
Rangers fans without tickets will be able to watch the game in a fan zone at the La Cartuja stadium, located on the outskirts of Seville and nine kilometres from the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and ticketless Frankfurt supporters will be urged to congregate at the Prado de San Sebastian, closer to the centre but six kilometres away from La Cartuja.
“They’re expecting a rush in Seville that the city hasn’t seen before,“ Frankfurt chief executive Axel Hellman said. “It’s going to be a unique gathering of the most vocal and enthusiastic fans in Europe.”
Former Rangers manager and player Graeme Souness urged the team’s supporters to enjoy the final peacefully. “When you think from the journey we’ve been on over the last 10 years to getting to a serious European final, it’s a fantastic achievement,“ Souness said.
“Theyve done their bit, now it’s your turn. Have a party but make sure you behave yourselves.”
Rangers' top scorer Alfredo Morelos will miss the game with a thigh injury while Kemar Roofe is also struggling with a knee problem, meaning Van Bronckhorst could start without a natural striker again.
Frankurt forward Jesper Lindstrom is hoping to shake off a hamstring strain in time for the final, with Jens Petter Hauge ready to stand in.
“It’s important he has two or three days training to be ready for the intensity that awaits us on Wednesday,“ Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner said. - AFP