Rangers ready to cope with notorious Belgrade atmosphere as Giovanni van Bronckhorst details Red Star gameplan

Of all the words used to describe the atmosphere at the Rajko Mitic Stadium through the years, ‘nice’ hasn’t been known to feature too prominently.

But as he steels his players for what awaits them in Belgrade on Thursday evening, Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is happy to apply that fluffy adjective alongside a more cliched portrayal of the venue as a belligerent environment.

With the insurance of a 3-0 first leg lead, van Bronckhorst is entitled to be quietly confident about his team’s prospects of seeing the job through against Red Star Belgrade to take their place in Friday’s Europa League quarter-final draw.

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Regardless of the impact the Serbian crowd have on the occasion, van Bronckhorst believes it is one Rangers should be able to both handle and savour.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is seeking to lead the Ibrox club into the last eight of European competition for the first time in 14 years. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“We know we are going to a place where the atmosphere can be very, very hostile,” he said. “But that’s something we have to cope with.

“We are quite an experienced team, we have been in places before where it’s very hostile. You have to deal with it and make sure you are mentally well prepared, tactically prepared and also make sure you just concentrate on the game and play against 11 other players.

“It will be a nice atmosphere to play in and we have to enjoy it as well. Of course, to face a strong opponent in the atmosphere we are going to face and to get a good result is a really big challenge for us.

“You know that some grounds are more difficult to go to than others and this one is definitely one of them where we are going to see a great atmosphere.”

Red Star Belgrade head coach Dejan Stankovic has seen his side lose just one of their last 11 home games in European competition. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Although Red Star have lost just once at home in their last 11 European games, that defeat came at the hands of the unremarkable Danish side Midtjylland in the group stage of this season’s Europa League.

Dejan Stankovic’s men were also held 1-1 at the Rajko Mitic by Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova when they were eliminated from the Champions League qualifiers, another indication that the reputation of the stadium also known locally as the Marakana perhaps exceeds the quality of the Serbian champions.

That said, even in defeat at Ibrox they provided evidence of an attacking threat which ensures van Bronckhorst is taking nothing for granted.

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“We start over again,” he said. “The game last week has been played and we are going to play a new game. We are just going to approach this one to have the best result possible.

The Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade - also known locally as the Marakana - where Red Star will play host to Rangers on Thursday evening. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

“We don’t go into the game already thinking about having a 3-0 difference. We have to be there from the first minute and try to be solid and be dangerous as well at the right moments in the game so it doesn’t affect us.

“Of course, there are moments in every game when you maybe go 1-0 up or 1-0 down but we just make sure we stick to our tactical game-plan. And make sure we do everything we can to get a positive result.

“You have a view of the team you are playing against before the first leg because you watch a lot of their games on video. You watch the patterns they have, their strengths and their weaknesses.

“But eventually when you play them yourself, like we did last week, you have a much better view.

The tunnel at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade which the Rangers players will walk through before their Europa League last 16 second leg match against Red Star. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

“That’s not only myself but also the players. So we can analyse that game really well and prepare the players for Thursday.

“But the outcome of the analysis is the same, you know. We are going to play against a really good opponent and that won’t change.”

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It’s another fixture where the presence of Ryan Jack will be crucial to Rangers both securing and retaining possession, the midfielder having shone in the knockout round play-off triumph over Borussia Dortmund and in last week’s first leg against Red Star.

The midfielder’s successful return from a nine-month injury absence also saw him handed a recall to the Scotland squad this week and van Bronckhorst is hugely gratified by the 30-year-old’s form.

“We missed him for a long time this season through injury,” he said. “You can see in his performances what he brings to the team, which is very positive for me.

“To have him back in the squad in these last weeks has been good for me and it’s also good for the team, because we have a broad selection of players from which we can choose.

“His performances are going really well and he has been picked again for Scotland. He will give his best for Scotland as well. His character, his attitude and performances will benefit Scotland, so I am more than happy to have him back in these last weeks.”

If Rangers clinch a last eight Europa League slot, it will intensify their fixture schedule with five games in 15 days at the start of April which would include both legs of the quarter-final and Old Firm clashes with Celtic in both the Premiership and Scottish Cup semi-final.

Van Bronckhorst has no fears over the demands that will place on his squad.

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“Our main objective is to go through and be in the next round in Europe,” he added. “That’s very important for all of us.

“Of course you are going to add two more games in April, but that’s what you want. You want to be involved in all competitions at the end of the season.

“We just add some games against, quality-wise, some very strong opponents. That’s what you want when you are playing, that’s what you want when you are a coach and I think it’s also what you want as a club and fans – to play many games at a top level.

“So we just have to go out and make sure we are in the next round.”

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