Rangers welcome Russian side FC Ufa to Ibrox on Thursday as they aim to reach the Europa League group stages. Joel Sked takes a look at what they can expect.
Who are FC Ufa?
Rangers are facing a team who were only formed in 2009 and didn’t play their first competitive game until 2011. It was thought the Bashkortostan region in the country required a football club to represent it with FC Neftyanik Ufa having dissolved in 2006. Created in 2009, FC Bashinformsvyaz-Dynamo Ufa soon became FC Ufa.
It has been a sudden rise to the Russian Premier League with promotion secured to the top tier in their third season.
Their first full season as a team saw them finish second in the third tier but due to a team in the second division not getting the required licence Ufa were promoted. Their second season in the second tier brought about promotion via the play-offs and they have been in the Premier League ever since.
Last season’s sixth place finish was the highest in their history. After four games of the current campaign they sit 11th in the 16-team league.
Rangers fans face a trip of nearly 3,700km trip to Ufa, a city which was created on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in the 1500s as a fortress. It is 1,400km east of Moscow.
Supporters will find a 15,000 all-seater Neftyanik Stadium which has stood since 1967 but was renovated three years ago. The ground is similar to many found in Easter Europe, a bowl with a running track with some parts of the ground not under any cover.
How did they qualify for Europe?
Originally, Ufa’s sixth place finish wouldn’t have been enough to secure qualification to Europe. That place was due to go to Russian Cup winners FC Tosno who defeated Avangard Kursk in a surprise final match-up. However the cup winners had not applied for a Uefa license in time. Tosno’s place therefore went to Ufa.
What is their European record like?
All but nonexistent. This is Ufa’s first season in European competition meaning Rangers will only be the club’s third ever continental opponents.
They came through on away goals against Slovenia’s NK Domzale in the second qualifying round before defeating Progres Niderkorn, conquerors of Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers last season, 4-3 on aggregate thanks to a late goal in the second-leg.
Player to watch
The wonderfully named Sly, or Sylvester Igboun, will be the player Ufa will look to to fire them into the group stages, and Rangers will have to keep an eye on him to stop that becoming a reality.
The Nigerian international top scored with seven league goals last season for the club. A modest return but understandable when you consider only relegated SKA-Khabarovsk recorded fewer shots than Ufa in the league.
The 27-year-old is the fulcrum of the attack doing a bit of everything, whether it is dropping off the frontline to link play or to create, drifting wide or simply going it alone. Last season he recorded the most shots, dribbles, touches in the box, aerial duels and key passes for the team in league competition.
Russian football writer David Sansun wrote: “The attacker is the pinnacle of the team. Most their good attacking play goes through him, and his pace, strength, work-rate and tirelessness make him a very pleasing player to watch, especially in a counter-attacking system like Ufa’s.”
Man in charge
Ufa had to bring in a new manager ahead of the new season after Russian legend Sergei Semak left the club to take up the vacant post at Zenit St Petersburg. In his stead arrived Sergei Tomarov. Although he didn’t so much arrive as step up. He is Mr Ufa, having turned out for teams in the city during his playing career and been involved with the club in various capacities since they became Fc Ufa.
Style of play
Rangers will encounter a stuffy, well organised team who pose a threat on the counter-attack. Set up in a 5-3-2 system, their central defensive trio and goalkeeper provide a solid and reliable base in which to build from.
Their attacking threat comes from the aforementioned Igboun and the full-backs. Last season they recorded the third most crosses in the league.
However, if they are to overcome Steven Gerrard’s men it will be largely down to their defensive play, having conceded 55 goals in 60 games over the previous two seasons. Monday night’s 3-0 defeat to Dinamo Moscow can be put down to the number of changes made to the team ahead of the Rangers game.
The club’s first manager was none other than former Rangers winger Andrei Kanchelskis.