Football Features

Seven stats showing Europa League finalist Rangers are much more than a “third-rate team”

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:28, 5 May 2022 | Updated: 15:47, 17 May 2022

A boisterous Ibrox witnessed Rangers successfully overturn a first-leg deficit against RB Leipzig to book their place in this month’s Europa League final.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men came into the return game on home soil trailing 0-1 on aggregate. With a full house relentlessly cheering them on, the Glaswegian giants overwhelmed their Bundesliga visitors to run out 3-1 winners, subsequently setting up a date with Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville on May 18.

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History was also made as the Gers became only the fifth side following the Europa League’s formation in 2009 to turn around a first-leg semi-final defeat. They will be looking to go on and become the first winner as the previous four all returned home with a runners-up medal. That special night called for heroes and Rangers’ talismanic skipper James Tavernier, as he’s prone to do, stepped up; the right-back broke the deadlock and in doing so, registered his seventh of the competition.

Incredibly, all of his efforts – which makes him the competition’s leading scorer – have come in the knockout phase; Leipzig joined Borussia Dortmund, Red Star and Braga as his victims. Even more impressive is the fact this was the fifth time Tavernier had netted the crucial tone-setting first goal of a game. That’s not all, as this is the most scored by a Rangers player during a single season in a major European competition; the previous Europa League best was Alfredo Morelos’ tally from 2019/20 (six goals).

Tavernier’s opening goal immediately put Leipzig, who started promisingly, on the back foot and with Rangers smelling blood, they kept pushing on and were duly rewarded when Glen Kamara shot from outside the box sailed past Peter Gulacsi. It was not only his first goal of this season’s tournament, but the 13th occasion across 14 games that Rangers had bagged a first-half goal, which is more than any other team.

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Expecting a much-different Leipzig team after the break, Rangers were pinned back midway through when Christopher Nkunku levelled the tie. It was his 12th European goal this season; only Karim Benzema (15) and Robert Lewandowski (13) have been more prolific. Extra-time loomed, but John Lundstram had other ideas. His strike with nine minutes remaining sent Ibrox into raptures. Tavernier, Kamara and Lundstrum combined set the club back less than £1million. Rangers’ record signing still remains Tore Andre Flo, whom they acquired from Chelsea for £12m in 2000. Founded in 2009, RB Leipzig have already surpassed that fee 20 times.

By turning this tie around, they’ve qualified for their second-ever UEFA Cup/Europa League final. This success also maintained the club’s impressive record when it comes to winning European semi-finals. Rangers have now reached a fifth Uefa-sanctioned final in six attempts (1961, 1967 and 1972 Cup Winners’ Cup, plus the 2008 and 2022 UEFA Cup/Europa League). Only Sevilla (six from six) boasts a higher progression rate from major UEFA European semi-finals than Scottish football’s most decorated club (83.3 per cent – minimum five ties).

After eliminating Dortmund in the first knockout round, Rangers were branded a “third-rate team” by German football legend Lothar Matthäus.

Having lost their opening two matches of the competition, they will now face a third Bundesliga team. Incidentally, their only continental success came 50 years ago, and they reached that final after winning 3-1 on aggregate against an opponent from Germany.