Rangers 'will be better' on Champions League return as defender makes post-World Cup admission
Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat by Ajax at Ibrox resulted in Rangers finished bottom of Group F with no points and goal difference of minus 20. Statistically, they are the worst team ever to grace the Champions League. This has been a chastening experience of top-table football for this group of players, of which the majority came so close to winning the Europa League last season. Despite the defeats – the heaviest a 7-1 reversal by Liverpool – Rangers are desperate to get back here next year. They want to improve and right the wrongs of this campaign.
"Not many positives,” was Barisic’s frank response when asked about his first taste of group-stage football at this level. “We are disappointed. We wanted to play in the Champions League. We qualified, which was a good thing, and we wanted to enjoy it, but it was a very tough campaign for us. We learned a lot. We want to achieve it next year and be better.
“It's another level. No-one expected that we would do well in the Europa League and we go into the Champions League and try to play our part ... I mean, there are clubs with squads of £400, £500, £600 million. Our group was very tough, but we need to respect the opponent and talk about that also. We tried, we learned, we are not happy because of this. This is Champions League, not Europa League. And also, if we are talking about last year, the final was a big achievement if you look at which squads we play.”
Barisic was asked if the standard had caught the Rangers squad off-guard, given it was so new to them. "You watch it on TV,” continued Barisic. “I don't think many of us had played Champions League, maybe one or two – it doesn't matter. When you watch on TV, it is something else compared to when you play. And then you have all the injured players ... it is not an excuse, but that's the reality. We are playing against teams that are four, five, six times more expensive than us. We need to be realistic, but we learned a lot and we want to achieve that next year. With more experience, we will be better.
"With all due respect, I don't think Dortmund [who Rangers knocked out of the Europa League last season] are better than Napoli, or Liverpool, or even Ajax. That's my opinion at this moment. You can see our results, that's the reality. They are just better than us. We can now analyse all night what's happened, but you know, we also have a lot of injured players. It's not easy to play on three fronts with the squad. But of course, when you experience Champions League, you want to play it again next year. We will do everything to be there.”
Barisic knows there is not much time for wallowing, not when Rangers have to stay on the case of Premiership leaders Celtic, who are four points clear of them. "I agree with you, that's the one thing that we need to do,” Barisic responded emphatically to a question about kicking on. “I think that every time when we played Champions League and we lose a game, of course we are disappointed, not just physically but you are tired. Mentally, you know they are tough teams but whenever you lose you don't feel good ... we need to clear our heads, we need to put it to one side. Champions League is unfortunately finished for us. We need now to look forward to leagues and cups.”
On a personal level, Barisic also has a World Cup to look forward to. He has been picked in the provisional squad and is almost certain to be retained as one of the chief left-backs when the final cut is made. The mere mention of going to Qatar brings a smile to his face.
"I cannot wait to go to the World Cup, I am very excited about that,” the 29-year-old said. “That motivates me a lot. Unbelievable. Playing Champions League and World Cup would be something amazing. I could not imagine it, but that's the now, that's the result of the things I have done in the past few years, how much I train, how much I sacrifice. I did that for this moment and I am proud.”
Barisic does admit, however, that it will be a slightly strange experience playing such a huge international tournament at this time of year. There is no template for a winter World Cup and the Croat concedes that while players will be match-fit when they link up with their respective countries, the unknown is what condition they will be in when the domestic campaign resumes in mid-December.
"For the World Cup, for players I think it is better because we are fresher now than in June,” Barisic added. “But when we come back, it will be different, for sure. I don't know how we will feel, but listen, this is the top level and if you want to go to the World Cup, you need to come back and perform again. No-one will ask you if you are tired mentally or physically. We will see, we have never experienced this.”
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