In the previous two campaigns, this stage of the tournament has turned out to be the end of the road for Rangers who found Bayer Leverkusen too strong in 2019-20 and were then outclassed by Slavia Prague last year.
But confidence is high among Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his players that they can make further progress this time and take Rangers into the quarter-finals of a European competition for the first time in 14 years – when Walter Smith’s team went all the way to the UEFA Cup Final.
Rangers’ stunning 6-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund, who had been favourites to win the tournament, in the knockout round play-offs last month has provided the Scottish champions with real belief they are capable of extending their run even further.
Alongside the professional pride and prestige which would come with overcoming Red Star Belgrade, there is also a major financial incentive for the Ibrox club if they can find a way past the Serbian champions.
Reaching the last eight of the Europa League will be worth an additional €1.8 million in UEFA prize money alone – around £1.5 million.
After their failure to progress through the Champions League qualifiers this season, losing 4-2 on aggregate to Malmo, another successful Europa League campaign was crucial for Rangers in what their board describes as the ‘recovery and growth phase’ of the club’s financial performance.
Rangers posted a loss of over £24 million last year as their overall revenues slumped by 19 per cent amid the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but managing director Stewart Robertson has stated they will achieve a ‘very probable profitable situation this season’.
From UEFA prize money alone, they have already assured themselves of €7.56 million (around £6.2 million) this season by reaching the last 16 of the Europa League. If Rangers beat Red Star Belgrade, they will be able to add to that pot. There is also a further €2.8 million of UEFA prize money for the semi-finalists. The prize money at stake in the Seville final on 18 May is €4.6 million for the runners-up and €8.6 million for the winners.