Aaron Ramsey’s penalty, the fourth in the shoot-out, was saved by Kevin Trapp, giving the Germans the advantage – and eventually the trophy.
It was tense to the end, a thrilling finish to a campaign where Rangers had already eliminated two teams from the Bundesliga en route, but Frankfurt in Spain proved one round too many.
Their epic 17-match odyssey in the competition was certain to end in the stifling heat of Seville, but Rangers took the tournament all the way, Joe Aribo and Rafael Borre’s exchange of second half goals forcing extra-time and then penalties.
James Tavernier and Steven David coolly converted both Rangers first two, matched by Jerome Lenz and Ajdin Hrustic. Scott Arfield and Daichi Kamada increased the jeopardy on the final to kickers but Trapp made the crucial intervention, blocking the on-loan Juventus’ midfielder’s low strike to deny Rangers their second European silverware.
Scotland has not seen a continental cup since Aberdeen in 1983 and a 40-year wait approaches.
Rangers had believed throughout their run in the competition and even with the option of Kemar Roofe back fit, manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst maintained belief in the same side which saw off RB Leipzig in the semi-final and kept the striker with Ramsey in reserve.
It didn’t let him down then and it wouldn’t again. Neither would makeshift centre-forward Aribo.
The Nigerian was knocked out cold on that epic night in Glasgow two weeks ago but even with numbers restricted to an estimated 18,000 Rangers fans, they made the tightly packed Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan feel like an Iberian Ibrox when he found the net three minutes before the hour mark.
An estimated 100,000 had come from far and wide to Seville and southern Spain with the sense of something special, a night to remember and rival the 1972 Barcelona Bears’ Cup Winners’ Cup triumph 50 years ago and redress the disappointment of the 2008 final.
In the end they felt that same flat feeling of Manchester but this Rangers team gave so much to a final, and a run to it through the 17-match campaign, that had truly given the fans a cause to dream.
They roared the team onto the pitch to simply survey the surface and from that moment two hours ahead of kick-off they barely stopped even though they had cause to clam up when Frankfurt’s early pressure discomfited Rangers at the back. It forced van Bronckhorst to switch their four-man defence to three, and back again.
There had been little early rhythm on the pitch, an accidental high boot from John Lundstram caused a five minute delay and pause for breath from a frantic, indecisive and untidy start.
Eintracht’s movement in attack began to make inroads, Borre matching up to Calvin Bassey while his support of Jesper Lindstrom and Kamada slipped in between.
Lundstram’s move back helped Connor Goldson delay Kamada’s twisting 12th minute run about Lindstrom was next to find space between Tavernier and Calvin Bassey, then Ansgar Knauff advanced down the Frankfurt right and forced a crucial stop from the goalkeeper. McGregor missed the 2008 final through injury, but he was already heavily involved 14 years later and would be in the shoot-out.
Scott Wright was another to play his part in the first half but while holding firm at the back, Rangers’ attacks were being cut off at key areas – Ryan Kent denied all but the most hopeful of passes and Aribo crowded out.
After 25 minutes that changed. Kent found possession and though forced backwards, Rangers recycled down the opposite flank and found Aribo to curl their first shot on goal wide before the mid-half water break.
Conditions had been testing under a still, heavy heat and although forced off the front-foot gameplan with a half-time shot count almost four-to-one against, Rangers stood firm to finish the first half on a high. Lundstram had a header tipped over by Kevin Trapp after Kent aggressively found sprinting space and Ryan Jack also fired over during injury time.
If the run to the final had been written in the stars by Rangers’ 150 years celebrations, 50-year anniversary of their previous European trophy win and more, then their goalmouth reflected it, by defensive force or simply fate spinning the ball around the post or over the bar. McGregor watched another Lindstrom shot deflect just wide after the restart and still Rangers held out. Their disciplined stance was soon rewarded.
Tavernier freed himself of Filip Kostic to burst down the right and Glen Kamara stepped over to allow Aribo to feed Kent for a wild swipe that the winger really should have converted.
Nevertheless Rangers would take the lead when a defensive slip sent Aribo one-on-one with Trapp and the Nigerian slid Rangers ahead three minutes later.
The lead was short-lived, barely 12 minutes old when Rafael Borre converted an assist from the Europa League’s most potent creator Filip Kostic.
Rangers though, had the competition’s most prolific scorer on the pitch in Tavernier and Roofe in reserve and through the tension of extra-time van Bronckhorst held his nerve before going all in with Aaron Ramsey and his returning striker for the final four minutes, and impending shoot-out.
His late twist had almost paid off. Roofe hit the by-line and cut-back for Kent but his rushing strike thundered off the unwitting Trapp and Davis, on the rebound, fired over.
Even a late Tavernier free-kick couldn’t avoid the element of jeopardy a shoot-out brings, one played in front of the Rangers fans, result of a coin-toss met with the roar of a goal.
They each celebrated penalties from Tavernier, Davis, Arfield and later Roofe, but the one they sought was denied as Borre converted the critical final kick to hand the Germans the trophy.