Europa League: Rangers secure quarter final spot despite defeat in Belgrade

Rangers booked their spot in the Europa League quarter finals - their best performance in Europe since 2008 - despite a tough defeat against Red Star Belgrade.

Gers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst had said before the match that his team were prepared for what could be a ‘very hostile’ atmosphere - but such a preview of the noise inside the ‘Marakana’ seemed an understatement as Rangers toiled in the first half.

Red Star got off to a dream start - Mirko Ivanic grabbed an early goal and gave the raucous home fans something to feed off.

Allan McGregor put in a heroic performance for Rangers, pulling off some outstanding saves to stop the hosts from closing the gap, and, against the run of play, Ryan Kent came up with a moment of magic to get Rangers level just after half-time.

El Fardou Ben Nabouhane snatched a win for the hosts from the penalty spot in added time, but it was too late for them to get back into the tie.

Rangers’ progression to the quarter finals of the tournament marks their best performance in the tournament since 2008, when Zenit St Petersburg bested them in the UEFA Cup final.

Ryan Kent celebrates after his goal against Red Star Belgrade.Ryan Kent celebrates after his goal against Red Star Belgrade.
Ryan Kent celebrates after his goal against Red Star Belgrade.

The quarter-final draw will take place tomorrow (Friday) at 12:30pm in UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland. The draw will be the last of the competition with Rangers learning their potential semi-final and final opponents.

Whoever the Ibrox side face in the next stage, it would be hard to find a more challenging ground to play in than the Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Rangers arrived in Serbia with a comfortable 3-0 lead, with goals from James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos and Leon Balugon at Ibrox handing them the advantage heading into the second leg.

That result certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the Red Star fans. There was a deafening atmosphere inside the ground, nicknamed the ‘Marakana’, with the Europa League anthem barely audible above the roars of the supporters.

The Gers seemed to start the stronger of the two teams; Morelos, chasing down Henrik Larsson’s goal scoring record in the tournament, tested Milan Borjan early with a powerful shot from the edge of the box.

But the hosts soon grew into the match. A short corner found Guelor Kanga, who was given far too much time to pick out his target. His cross found Ivanic in the middle of the box, unmarked, who knocked the ball past McGregor just 10 minutes into the match.

The roaring crowd seemed to be getting to the visitors. Rangers couldn’t get a grip on the game - passes were misplaced and the hosts, growing in confidence, were taking advantage.

McGregor denied a second goal minutes later, pushing another shot from Ivanic around the far post.

He couldn’t do much about the next chance. A long ball caused confusion in the Rangers box, and it was Milan Pavkov who took advantage. McGregor could only watch as the ball rolled past him, and just past the post.

Red Star Belgrade’s Mirko Ivanic scored an early goal.Red Star Belgrade’s Mirko Ivanic scored an early goal.
Red Star Belgrade’s Mirko Ivanic scored an early goal.

Rangers started to settle into the match as half-time approached and the crowd quietened. Morelos snatched at a few half chances, but the Red Star keeper was not really tested. The hosts, meanwhile, were not driving forward with the same energy as in the opening 25 minutes.

They almost grabbed a second on the brink of half-time. Cristiano Piccini darted inside from the right and fired a powerful shot towards the top left corner, but McGregor - again a hero for the Ibrox side - pounced to deny the Italian defender his goal and ensure Rangers maintained a two-goal lead going into the break.

Red Star had Rangers back on the ropes following the restart. McGregor pulled off two quick saves, but the hosts should have had a second soon after. A long ball found Ohi Anthony Omoijuanfo one-on-one with Calvin Bassey. He held off the Gers defender, lured out McGregor and knocked the ball across to Pavkov, who hesitated and let the ball drift past him.

Red Star had failed to capitalise on their momentum - and it came back to punish them. Kent linked up with Glen Kamara with a quick one-two, giving him acres of space to run into. He charged into the Red Star box and slotted the ball past Borjan, via a deflection.

The boisterous Red Star fans were silenced, as the 2000 travelling Rangers supporters went wild.

The hosts kept testing McGregor, but the fire had gone out of their game and the fans struggled to keep up the noise.

Kamara gave the Red Star fans something to cheer about in added time as he gifted the hosts a penalty. El Fardou Ben Nabouhane scored from the spot, eliciting a brief response from the home fans, but it was too late to stop Rangers from booking their spot in the quarter finals.

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