The most unexpected European Cup final in ten years: Rangers smell history in the Europa League final
A storm is approaching Seville. One way or another, Rangers fans will flock to the south of Spain and face a contingent from Eintracht Frankfurt likely to match their numbers.
Despite the warnings, over 100,000 fans are expected to take to the city’s picturesque streets and cobbled squares ahead of tonight’s Europa League final.
The lucky few will have received tickets for Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan from Uefa’s small contingent.
The rest will pack into fan zones, the two sides being five kilometers apart and located on either side of the Guadalquivir waterway. It will be just close enough to the Pizjuan to justify their pilgrimage.
This is not an opportunity to be missed. It’s the most unexpected European final in a decade, since Porto met Braga in 2011, and arguably the biggest game in the history of Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Aside from Villarreal’s win over Manchester United last season, the Europa League has routinely been won in recent years by Champions League dropouts, an underperforming member of European superclubs or Sevilla. This lineup breaks that pattern and is one that could not have been predicted two months ago, let alone at the start of the season.
The growing financial inequalities in European football should put Rangers out of reach, who have become Scotland’s first team in a flagship European field since their last appearance in 2008.
Eintracht finished this season in the bottom half of the Bundesliga but have surpassed top-four clubs Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen, eliminating Barcelona and ending West Ham’s run.
Both thugs were carried here by something larger instead. While every step has been accompanied by the realization that against all odds, their journeys have also been fueled by an inherent belief that they belong on nights like this.
Both Rangers and Eintracht will behave like European royalty upon arrival in Seville but they won’t take it for granted. It remains a generational opportunity. That’s why Eintracht took 30,000 to the Nou camp when they beat Barcelona.
For Barca, a Europa League quarter-final spelled ridicule and a sign of decline. For Eintracht it was a chance to grab and a chance to rise.
The same was true in many ways for West Ham on their way to the semi-finals and if Aaron Creswell hadn’t been sent off too early in Germany we might have had an all-British affair. While hopeful West Ham supporters were impressed by the atmosphere at the Waldstadion, Rangers fans’ feedback on Eintracht from a footballing perspective was less than flattering.
They believe the Bundesliga side are beatable and Rangers will go into the final without fear after beating Dortmund and Leipzig so far.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have certainly proved many wrong since being dismissed as ‘third-rate’ by German legend Lothar Matthäus.
Van Bronckhorst has done an excellent job since taking over from Steven Gerrard. His first game in charge was a must-win game against Sparta Prague in November.
Spurred on by Ibrox, Rangers secured a place in the knockout rounds of the Europa League and although their campaign has been marked by fits and starts, they have not looked back. A Europa League final would also dwarf Celtic’s success in reclaiming the Premiership title this season.
Rangers will miss home advantage in Seville but they have a reassuring influence on the touchline in Van Bronckhorst who has played in the biggest games and seen it all before.
The Dutchman demonstrated tactical versatility, especially in the semifinals with RB Leipzig’s 3-4-3 system, and will be challenged again against Eintracht, who also play in this formation.
Rangers are more open and less rigid under Van Bronckhorst than they were under Gerrard and once again it will take big moves from the likes of Glen Kamara, Ryan Jack, John Lundstram and Calvin Bassey to fill the gaps that are emerging.
Goals remain an issue and Rangers are once again hoping striker Kemar Roofe can return with Alfredo Morelos out for the season. Their captain James Tavernier, the Europa League’s most notable goalscorer at right-back this season, bears their greatest danger and his battle with opposing full-back Filip Kostic, Eintracht’s hero at the Nou camp, will be key.
It could be a historic night for Rangers but the club are keen for it to pass without incident. The unrest in Manchester following the 2008 UEFA Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg continues to cast a worrying shadow on their trip to Seville.
Uefa acted by opening the nearby La Cartuja stadium and setting up a giant screen for ticketless fans to watch the game.
Those with Eintracht will have a different area elsewhere, but there are also concerns following clashes between German fans and Real Betis and West Ham supporters earlier in the competition.
There is concern. Earlier this week, former Rangers manager Graeme Souness took to social media looking like a strict sixth ahead of a trip to the science museum. “You are an ambassador of this club” was his message to those who went to Seville. “You have to go there and behave yourself.” It felt menacing. There should only be excitement. Something is building. One last thought lost on European football is here.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/the-most-unexpected-european-final-in-a-decade-rangers-sense-history-in-europa-league-decider-41661729.html The most unexpected European Cup final in ten years: Rangers smell history in the Europa League final