Attractive city though it is, Scottish football fans tend not to find much joy amid its sun-drenched plazas and orange tree-lined streets.
Allan McGregor, who saw five penalties flash past him into the net, certainly won’t choose to retire there. Aaron Ramsey, meanwhile, will never wish to return after he saw his effort, Rangers’ fourth kick, saved by Kevin Trapp. The on-loan Juventus player was meant to make the difference to Rangers’ campaign when he arrived in January. But not like this. Cruel, cruel, cruel.
Rafael Borre hit the winning kick for Eintracht Frankfurt in the shootout, high to McGregor’s right. You know what the say about German teams and penalties ...
Seville is where Celtic’s dreams were extinguished at the same stage of the same competition in 2003. It’s where, forty years ago next month, Scotland fell 4-1 to Brazil in a World Cup clash remembered, in this country at least, for Davie Narey’s stunning opening goal. A “toe poke” Jimmy Hill described it at the time and the pundit would never hear the end of it.
Narey’s shot briefly had a rival for the most famous goal scored by a Scottish team in the city. Joe Aribo’s strike, after 57 minutes, certainly threatened to become the most significant. As in the case of Narey, whose finish into the top corner was reckoned to have succeeded only in making Brazil angry, perhaps the goal had simply come too early. Rangers still needed to negotiate over half an hour on another sweltering night in the city.
They managed to defend their lead only for another dozen or so minutes before Filip Kostic’s cross from the left was diverted into the net by the tip of the right boot of the stretching Borre – that really was a toe poke. The 40-year-old McGregor, the oldest player to ever play in a European final and perhaps playing in his last-ever game, didn’t have an earthly.
From Angus to Andalusia. The end point for Rangers’ so-called journey was generally felt to have been last season, when they secured their 55th Scottish title and first since the financial meltdown of 2012. Many newspaper features at the time which chronicling this odyssey through the divisions proposed that there was now closure.
But perhaps here, in the suffocating heat of southern Spain, was where a cathartic outpouring really did occur. Perhaps here was where the hurt really was assuaged despite the final, heart-breaking outcome.
That journey back to the top flight had started in Brechin in July 2012. As the rain hammered down on the small tent erected at Glebe Park to cater for the busier than normal press conference, manager Ally McCoist explained that he was unable even to fill the bench for the Ramsdens Cup fixture. He named only four subs rather than the permitted five and afterwards claimed he was doing well to even reach that number.
There were 12 substitutes in Seville. One, indeed, was a Welsh international player on loan from Juventus. Ramsey did not make the starting XI but there was some comfort in knowing that a player of such quality was on hand to come on if things were slipping away from Rangers. This certainly seemed to be happening towards the end of the 90 minutes but Steven Davis, the veteran midfielder, was sent on instead by Giovanni van Bronckhorst as the manager sought to steady the ship.
Another half an hour of extra football was not necessarily in Rangers’ interests given the conditions but it was preferable to losing a late goal. Van Bronckhorst didn’t even turn to Ramsey at the start of extra-time. Scott Arfield replaced Glen Kamara instead. Ramsey eventually surfaced towards the end of the second period of extra-time, as did Kemar Roofe. The match remained on a knife-edge. Penalties loomed. Had Ramsey’s time come in a Rangers shirt after such a stop-start few months? Or would McGregor, who is considering whether to hang his gloves up, bow out with the winning save?
The eyes of Europe were on the Ibrox club again. This wasn’t necessarily the case even last year, when they won the Scottish Premiership title they craved under Steven Gerrard. The then Rangers manager also succeeded in making sure the Ibrox side regained their respect on the continent. But this felt different. A final. A European final. Fans of other teams, including those in England, were looking on with envy. Even Gerrard, now at Aston Villa, must have felt some frustration at missing out.
There were periods when it seemed the occasion was going to overwhelm the Ibrox side. There were similarities with the last time they reached such a showpiece match, in 2008 in Manchester. Playing in white, as Zenit St Petersburg did 14 years ago, Eintracht Frankfurt seemed determined to allow Rangers as little of the ball as possible in the early stages. Rangers never really looked like overcoming their Russian opponents at the City of Manchester Stadium and rarely got to grips with the game.
The same was happening here initially. The general feeling seemed to be that John Lundstram was lucky not to be penalised for a high boot in the opening minutes. To be fair to the midfielder, he seemed to try to withdraw his boot before it made contact with Sebastian Rode’s head. The game was held up for several minutes as the Eintracht Frankfurt skipper was bandaged up. It left him looking like former Ibrox colossus Terry Butcher.
Rangers fans would have been disturbed by nightmarish visions of Rode going up to accept the trophy with blood dripping down his forehead. A potentially iconic image. Just not the one they wanted.
Rode stayed on and, more significantly for Rangers, so did Lundstram. Rangers were treated leniently by VAR here and then in the second half, when Connor Goldson appeared to clip Borre in the box. That was a let-off and a potentially hugely important one given Rangers took the lead shortly afterwards. Djibril Sow’s wayward back header gave Aribo the chance to put pressure on Tuta, whose subsequent slip meant the makeshift Rangers striker found himself through on goal. His finish was nerveless. Aribo ran to the bank of Rangers fans behind the goal. A Scottish side had their noses in front in a European final for the first time since 1983.
Rangers will have desperate, enduring regrets – specifically Ryan Kent’s failure to score in the last minute of extra-time after Roofe’s fine cross. The Scottish Cup, which they will fight to win for the first time since 2009 against Hearts on Saturday, is a major trophy. But this was a major major trophy. And they had one hand on it.