Rangers reaction: So close to a 'miracle', Clement happy for two players, difficulty with rules

Ibrox boss proud of his players after drawing 2-2 with Benfica in Lisbon

Philippe Clement insists Rangers came close to a “miracle” win over Benfica in their thrilling Europa League last-16 tie which ended 2-2 in Lisbon.

Midfielder Tom Lawrence gave the Light Blues the lead in the seventh minute of the first leg with a header before Argentina World Cup winner Angel Di Maria levelled with a penalty in added time after VAR intervened to highlight that Gers defender John Souttar had used his arm inside the box. Dujon Sterling restored the visitors’ lead in added time with his first career goal only for Gers defender Connor Goldson to head into his own goal in the 67th minute and the tie is now set up nicely for next Thursday in Govan.

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With a nod to Benfica’s huge budget in comparison to that of Rangers, the Light Blues boss said: “We were really close to making this miracle, the first team ever in the Europa League to win here. It is a pity to get a penalty against us like that, it is really an unlucky situation, the ball drops and John doesn’t see it and it drops on his arm. That is really unlucky. We were really close, we had two opportunities with Fabio (Silva) and Cyriel (Dessers) to make it 3-1, it would have changed a lot in this game but I am really proud of my team.

Rangers will welcome Benfica to Ibrox next week for the second leg.Rangers will welcome Benfica to Ibrox next week for the second leg.
Rangers will welcome Benfica to Ibrox next week for the second leg.

“They showed character, personality and solidarity also with the ball we scored two really good goals. I am really someone who is demanding but I cannot give more than what they gave today. They gave their all and also, the guys who came in. We missed a lot of players in the offensive position so other players had to do the job. I am very happy with Fabio and Dujon. We need to continue like this. If we keep this mentality that they have been showing in the last couple of months it could be an amazing season.”

Asked if Rangers now have the advantage in the tie, the Belgian boss said: “It’s only an advantage that it’s at Ibrox. If our fans are on top of it from the first second until the last second then they can give a lot of energy to the team. But we stay realistic about the qualities of Benfica. You guys wrote this week about the difference in the transfer budgets and that’s the reality. If we could eliminate this team I think it would be a huge, huge thing. I can only ask for my players to give their best and to show that they have shown tonight again on Thursday.”

Clement went on to describe the penalty as “very harsh”, saying: “I have said it already a few times that I don’t agree where the game has gone to with handball situations. I know those are the rules. I had more problems with some situations in the last couple of weeks. With the rules and how they are now, you can give this penalty. But as somebody who loves football, I have difficulty with those rules.

“And I think all the managers and all the players think the same. It is too harsh now that a ball that is clearly not intended to go against your arm, the moment it touches you it’s a penalty. Too many games all over the world are decided in this way with these handballs and these penalties.”