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Europa League Final 2022 - Official match thread


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I can't wait to getting back to normal sleeping problems.  Ever since we qualified, I've barely managed four hours.  

 

Next week - bring it on.  The nerves, the excitement, the culmination of a very strange, roller-coaster of a season.

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Souness in today's ST. 

"It was my brother Bill who introduced me to Ibrox on a European night when I was about ten."

No, surely not....

 

Europa League final could be the greatest night of Rangers players’ lives

Rangers’ return from near extinction to the Europa League final is incredible

Graeme Souness

Sunday May 15 2022, 12.00am, The Sunday Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/europa-league-final-could-be-the-greatest-night-of-rangers-players-lives-x3gwt2rd2

 

It was my brother Bill who introduced me to Ibrox on a European night when I was about ten. Bill is four years older than me and would take me from Edinburgh to Glasgow for the games.

Although I grew up in Hearts territory, I was awed by the sheer scale and spectacle of Rangers’ stadium as a boy. I vividly remember going with a Union Jack draped across my shoulders to show my support and enjoy the special atmosphere on those nights under the lights. I was always playing on Saturdays, so midweek games were the only ones I could go to.

The recent Europa League semi-final win over RB Leipzig was the greatest night of football I’ve witnessed as a Rangers man since I first went to games six decades ago. I was so proud of them, I thought: “We’re playing like a big European team and deserve to be in the final”. I didn’t think: “This is a team from one of the smaller leagues in European football.”

John Lundstram makes it 3-1 in the semi-final against RB Leipzig at Ibrox

John Lundstram makes it 3-1 in the semi-final against RB Leipzig at Ibrox

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This is Rangers’ greatest achievement. I know winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in Barcelona in 1972 was amazing, but football was a far more level playing field then. Today, the money that television has brought into Europe’s big leagues has distorted everything. This achievement also surpasses anything the Rangers teams I managed did in Europe, although we were in the Champions League, or European Cup as it was called then.

It was fantastic to watch. Rangers have no right to be in the Europa League final given their resources, but I didn’t see a team that had any inferiority complex or didn’t fancy themselves. They came under pressure midway through the second half of that second leg in the semi-final at Ibrox, when Leipzig got their goal, but rallied and went again. There was so much belief in the team that they could get the job done.

 

In many ways it was more impressive than the earlier win in this tournament against Borussia Dortmund, who did not field their strongest team, perhaps believing: “This is Rangers from the Scottish Premiership, it won’t be too big a problem for us.” They underestimated Rangers big time, but Leipzig turned up with their strongest XI knowing they would get a hell of a game and Rangers were still better than them over the two legs.

Logic rarely applies in football, but if you look at a Bundesliga table, they are now playing the weakest of the three German teams they have faced in the final. At the time of writing, Dortmund sit second, Leipzig are fourth and Eintracht Frankfurt are down in 12th.

James Tavernier is all smiles after his side confirm their spot in the final in Seville

James Tavernier is all smiles after his side confirm their spot in the final in Seville

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I guarantee that will not be mentioned by Giovanni van Bronckhorst in any team meeting before Wednesday night’s final in Seville, though.

I had breakfast with him at the training ground recently. He is an impressive, intelligent man — wise enough to know that the Germans will definitely turn up for the final after beating Barcelona and West Ham United to reach it.

The vast majority of people who have been involved at Rangers in the past ten years deserve enormous credit. Reaching the final has not only put Rangers back on the map, the credibility it has given Scottish football cannot be underestimated.

It is ten years since Rangers’ administration and liquidation. The treatment they received within Scottish football, being demoted to the bottom division as punishment, was only to be expected because of the parochial attitude up there — and I’m speaking from experience. In ten years Rangers have gone from near extinction to the final of the second most important European competition.

Souness in action for Rangers in the 1987-88 season

Souness in action for Rangers in the 1987-88 season

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Sadly, this will not be universally accepted in Scotland as a great thing. The same people that were happy to see the demise of Rangers ten years ago will be watching on Wednesday, wanting them to lose. There was great delight in Rangers’ demise, maybe that’s why their fans often sing: “No one likes us, we don’t care”.

When Walter Smith led Rangers to the Uefa Cup final in 2008, I never imagined I would see them in another European final in my lifetime. Walter did it with a disciplined and organised team, playing counterattacking football, but I don’t see the same strategy from this team. They play a brand of football that’s composed. They have a plan, everyone knows what they are doing and they carry a threat with real pace and energy.

 

The scoring stats of James Tavernier, the captain, are ridiculous. He has 18 goals this season — a full back should just not get that many. He has a striker’s instinct for reading the game and thinking: “I can get in here” and he has the athleticism to get there. He takes a wonderful set piece, too. What an asset to have.

Calvin Bassey has emerged as a real prospect. His run down the left out of defence to create the winner against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final also stood out from the recent games I’ve watched. John Lundstram took six months to settle in but seems to be flourishing now as an athletic midfielder who can drop into defence when required. Allan McGregor, the veteran goalkeeper, also deserves a mention. He made a fine save against Leipzig at a crucial time.

Rangers, like Celtic, never play an easy game. It’s a cup final every week for both of them. It’s not the same for the big clubs abroad, who can roll over teams a lot easier. The way football has evolved with television money, Scotland’s been left behind. But if there was a British league and everyone was starting from zero — Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City — Rangers would be in the top six on a regular basis. In Glasgow, both Celtic and Rangers could fill a 100,000-seat stadium for the major English clubs’ visits.

We will see that by the number of Rangers supporters who travel to Seville this week. I can’t be there because it’s my daughter’s wedding, elsewhere in Spain, the same day. My youngest son has to get a television sorted somewhere and I have put that firmly on his doorstep. I can’t have anything to do with it or I’d be consulting a divorce lawyer within 48 hours.

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