New destination as Rangers go to Luxembourg on European return

Rangers will enter uncharted territory on their return to European football after being paired with Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Rangers will face Luxembourg international Sebastien Thill. Picture: Getty.
Rangers will face Luxembourg international Sebastien Thill. Picture: Getty.

The Ibrox club, back in continental competition for the first time since 2011, have never played in the Grand Duchy before.

Pedro Caixinha’s men will be at home in the first leg next week, on 29 June, before travelling to face their unheralded opponents in Luxembourg on 6 July. It promises to be a benign re-introduction to the European stage for Rangers. Progres finished fourth in their domestic league last season and have never won a tie in their six previous European campaigns. Should Rangers progress, they will face either AEL Limassol of Cyprus or St Joseph’s of Gibraltar in the second qualifying round.

St Johnstone will also start their campaign in the first qualifying round where they have been drawn against FK Trakai of Lithuania with next week’s first leg scheduled to take place at McDiarmid Park. If Tommy Wright’s men get through, they will meet either Swedish side IFK Norrkoping or FC Prishtina of Kosovo in the second qualifying round.

Aberdeen enter the competition at the second qualifying round stage where they will play the winners of the first qualifying-round tie between Ordabasy Shymkent of Kazakhstan and Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia.

All three Scottish entrants face an ultimately daunting task if they reach the group stage but both Rangers and Saints will be content with the first assignments placed in front of them.

As Caixinha continues to reshape his squad, with Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos yesterday confirmed as the club’s sixth new signing of the summer, he will be optimistic they can avoid any embarrassment against Progres Niederkorn.

In losing all six of their previous European ties, the Luxembourg outfit have scored only one goal – way back in the 1981-82 season when they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Glentoran in the first round of the European Cup.

Their most recent appearance came two years ago when they lost 3-0 on aggregate to Shamrock Rovers in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Progres are managed by Paolo Amodio who returned to the club midway through last season for a second spell in charge. A former striker with both Progres and the Luxembourg national team, Amodio was a member of the Jeunesse Esch side crushed 11-0 on aggregate by Celtic in the first round of the Uefa Cup in 2000.

Former Hearts and Kilmarnock defender Ismael Bouzid, who had a trial spell at Rangers four years years ago, played for Progres last season but left the club this summer. Their most notable players are Luxembourg international midfielders Sebastian Thill and Mario Mutsch, the latter having just joined them after spells in French and Swiss football.

If they go through, Rangers are likely to face a stiffer test in the second qualifying round against AEL Limassol who are strong favourites to account for Gibraltan minnows and European debutants St Joseph’s.

The Cypriot club’s coach, Bruno Baltazar, will be familiar to his Portuguese compatriot Caixinha. AEL reached the group stage of the Europa League as recently as the 2012-13 season. On their most recent appearance in Europe, they lost 5-1 to Spurs in the play-off round of the 2014-15 Europa League.

St Johnstone, competing in the tournament for the fifth time in the last six years, will face one familiar foe in the FK Trakai line-up in the shape of former Hearts midfielder Deividas Cesnauskis.

Now 35, he is captain of a club only formed in 2005 and who have risen quickly through the tiers of Lithuanian league 

Aberdeen will hope to avoid another gruelling trip to Kazakhstan, having lost to Kairat Almaty in the third qualifying round two years ago.