James Tavernier is one match away from joining John Greig as a European trophy-winning Rangers captain – the only other in the Govan outfit’s history and one of just three Scottish club skippers to do so.
What is at stake here in Seville, the frying pan of Spain, doesn’t come along often and the heat is on for Rangers to achieve history.
“It’s different from Glasgow, that’s for sure,” said manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst of the mid-afternoon heat when conducting his pre-match press conference. There have been some red-hot European nights at Ibrox this season but nothing can compare to what this Rangers team is about to experience against Eintracht Frankfurt at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
“We’re here now, we see the difference in the attention we have from the media, you look at the stadium and we also have the press conference – it’s all because we reached the final,” van Bronckhorst continued. “But if you play in big games and finals you get so much attention. We have to make sure we are concentrating on our game.
“Of course, it’s a big game and it comes with pressure because you have the ability, the chance to win a major prize. But in any top sport you have to have a little bit of pressure to perform well. That’s what we have to do.”
Where would it rank in the great European victories for Scottish teams, at a time where the weighting of UEFA tournaments is against representatives from our own SPFL? The gradual improvement of Rangers in this competition, and of the country’s co-efficient, is significant, but would be topped by this almighty achievement.
The question of scale is not limited to the magnitude of a potential victory either.
All Rangers roads have led to Seville this week and a huge throng of supporters have followed the team to Spain. Judging by the increasing spread of fans across the southern Costas, this city may not have the ability to host them.
Sevilla’s 44,000 capacity stadium certainly is not large enough and such is the demand, interest and anticipation to be here, UEFA have opened a second ground – Estadio de La Cartuja – for ticketed fans to congregate and watch on big screens. Ironically, it can hold 13,000 more fans than the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Questions have rightly been asked over the host ground’s suitability, but this neat stadium nesting among the streets lined by lilac-blossomed trees forms an idyllic backdrop for Rangers’ potential moment in the sun.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate that some won’t get into the stadium but for us we take a lot of pride in that support that we get,” said Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack. “We are the lucky ones that are going to be here and play the final because if you like there are 100,000 people who’d want to be in our position so we’ve just got to go out, put in a good performance to make them proud.”
The anticipation in Seville and surrounding areas has been rising ever since Rangers’ arrival on Monday evening.
Eintracht Frankfurt, whose players jetted in yesterday, bring a substantial following too, but recent form is with the Scottish side. The Bundesliga outfit need to look back more than two months to record a four-win tally. For Rangers, it’s merely a fortnight. Included within that quartet is that epic night against RB Leipzig in the second leg of the semi-finals that sparked the rush for planes, trains and automobiles to ancient Andalucia.
All of this in the face of adversity, it must be noted. Rangers’ squad has been shrinking in size through injuries to key players. But while van Bronckhorst dealt with a gradually depleting squad, he extracted more and more from those remaining.
First defender Filip Helander missed the group stages, then it was creative midfielder Ianis Hagi falling to a knee injury in January ahead of Borussia Dortmund. Talismanic striker Alfredo Morelos was ruled out from the quarter-final onwards.
His usual replacement, Kemar Roofe, has been missing since mid-April and was absent for both matches against RB Leipzig. His return to fitness increases hope for Rangers, but their prospects here are based on more than just crossing their fingers.
Van Bronckhorst’s tactical nous has grown in adversity, with successful systems shaped to make best of each situation, even eliminating Leipzig without a recognised striker. The selection and system deployed initially failed to spark in Germany but perseverance paid off and translated into one of the most memorable nights and performances Ibrox has ever seen in the return leg with a 3-1 win. Victories over Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade en route to Seville deserve mention too. There have been so many success stories.
They have set up a summer night’s tale in Seville, far from where this competition campaign began, an edgy, covid-hampered aggregate win over Armenians Alashkert 17 games ago, where semi-final goalscorer and new darling of the Rangers support John Lundstram was sent-off.
Rangers, as finalists from the qualification play-off and then group runners-up, have played the most games of any team in this Europa League campaign and it now boils down to this last one.
After such a monumental, lengthy, memorable campaign, it is only 90 minutes – and maybe extra time or indeed penalties – that separates Rangers not only from the Europa League trophy, but a seismic achievement for this club and Scottish football history.