The 1960 and 2002 European Cup Winners at Hampden had already done so here at Ibrox on their only previous visit in 1963, and while there was no talent quite of the calibre of Ferenc Puskas or Paco Gento this time, Ryan Kent’s trickery and goals from Fashion Sakala and Cedric Itten had the home support off their seats in what will become a memorable win for Rangers
The glamour of the La Liga giants may not have glittered quite as brightly without the star names of Eden Hazard, Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior – but Carlo Ancelotti still named ten internationalists with a combined cap haul of more than 180 in his starting line-up – Isco, Marcelo and Luka Jovic among them, and a win for Steven Gerrard’s side, even in a challenge match, is not easily dismissed on the dawn of a new season.
It’s difficult to determine which was the more captivating about this final Rangers friendly of the pre-season preparations – the big-name opposition of Real Madrid, the anticipation of the new season six days away or the increasing return towards normality in the stands. It could be a combination of all three with a renewed vigour on the pitch and off it.
Whatever it was it contributed to a memorable evening.
The roar that greeted Rangers’ emergence from the tunnel and the strength of the team that Steven Gerrard sent out was as if the real stuff was back. The flame-throwers and fireworks on an already warm evening in Glasgow suggested this was no ordinary occasion with Los Blancos in town.
The pyrotechnics were wisely packed away before kick-off and a high-octane first 45 minutes from Rangers.
As he hinted after Brighton held them to a scoreless draw on Saturday, the manager based his side on the one which finished the game 24 hours earlier though Scott Wright kept his place on the right of the attack with new recruit Fashion Sakala Jr through the middle.
It was on the right most joy was found with Wright, James Tavernier and John Lundstram finding routes between Brazilian left-back Marcelo and centre-half Nacho - 78 international caps between them - regularly, but Rangers were unfortunate not to capitalise before the break.
From Sakala’s overhead kick attempt at Lundstram’s cross with barely 100 seconds played to Ryan Kent skipping past three challenges shortly before half-time Gerrard had his side on the front foot despite such illustrious opposition.Only once did Madrid counter, after eight minutes of Rangers pressure and showed their quality.
Rodrygo bundled by Steven Davis’ challenge and poked the opener past Allan McGregor. It silenced Ibrox. It had been the visitors’ first attack of note and it remained so for the next 15 minutes because Rangers’ response was immediate. Goldson had a header blocked on the line, he claimed with a hand, by Marcelo. Hagi had a strike blocked after leaving Lucas Vazquez flat-footed and Sakala again had another charged down for a corner much closer in, but the swarm of blue shirts looked dangerously fluent moving forward against the iconic all-white kitted opposition, despite the score.
If this was the final exercise where the result didn’t matter for Steven Gerrard, it was encouraging. But it got even better.
Kent even hit the woodwork just before the half hour mark, after Wright robbed Isco on the right and crossed for Sakala whose miscue fell kindly into the winger’s path. It looked harder to hit the crossbar from six yards out and his attempt to redeem himself moments afterwards by keeping a low drive down and on target was beaten out by Andreii Lunin, who was peppered with shots he kept out but simply could not gather in a fairly frenetic 45 minutes.
The second was slower to start as the sun cast longer shadows across the Ibrox pitch but the stands burst into life after ten minutes when Sakala did find the net and equalised in a role reversal from Real’s opener. Spanish substitute Sergio Arribas had spurned an unchallenged header from Marcelo’s cross moments earlier but with Rangers’ next advance the Zambian found the net beating Lunin at his near post after Kamara’s through ball.
Immediately Rangers made changes into an alternate 4-2-3-1 formation with Tavernier higher and Nathan Patterson on and invited Madrid to come at them more. The buccaneering first half had settled and as the pace slowed and the substitution breaks increased, a draw seemed an acceptable outcome for all parties until Nacho was red-carded for a second bookable offence, catching Glen Kamara high with a challenge.
Rangers immediately sensed advantage and within two minutes were ahead.
It might have been a friendly but it was celebrated like it mattered by the enthusiastic socially-distanced crowd when Cedric Itten’s shot on the spin beat Lunin after a lofted ball in from Steven Davis. It is not every day Scottish football fans celebrate wins over Real Madrid, and even more so after a year away from the game. They will savour it, and they did.
This meeting was also billed as a celebration of Rangers’ 150th anniversary, 58 years since the sides last met. The Galacticos may not have been on show, but Rangers fans will still remember this performance against a strong side in another 58 years – finally back in at Ibrox and beating the mighty Real Madrid.