Giovanni van Bronckhorst relishing Borussia Dortmund challenge as he targets last 16 of Europa League with Rangers
Being paired with Borussia Dortmund, favourites with the bookmakers to go all the way and lift the trophy in Seville on May 18, is certainly as daunting an assignment as the Scottish champions could have faced.
But as Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst prepares to lead his players into the first leg against the Bundesliga giants in Germany on Thursday evening, he will urge them to embrace an opportunity to prove themselves in elite company.
“We are football players and managers, we want to play against the best opposition possible in all the competitions we have,” said van Bronckhorst.
“You want your players to live the moments we are facing now, playing in Europe against a team like Borussia Dortmund.
“That’s why you work hard from when you are young, to play these games. So everyone is excited and ready to play this game against big opposition in a great stadium.
“We have to make sure we are well prepared to try and win this tie. It’s what you want in life and football - to face the challenges and overcome the challenges.
“You know when you are involved in Europe after the winter break that you are going to play against very good opposition.
“We are relishing the challenge to play against a top side. We just go out and try to go to the next round.”
Dortmund dropped into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group, missing out on the knockout phase of UEFA’s elite tournament for the first time since 2017.
They remain in the hunt for the Bundesliga title, currently six points behind leaders Bayern Munich, but suffered a shock exit from the German Cup at the hands of St Pauli.
Marco Rose’s team have kept just three clean sheets in the league this season with a 5-2 defeat at home to Bayer Leverkusen two weeks ago an indication of defensive vulnerability Rangers may hope to profit from in counter-attacking situations.
“Those moments are always very important in games, especially against a good side,” said van Bronckhorst. “You don’t get a lot of chances and those are moments where you can create some danger.
“We have analysed Dortmund very well. They won 3-0 (at Union Berlin) on Sunday but in the previous 10 days they had a spell which was less than they wanted.
“It is still a good side with quality players and a good coach, so it will be a difficult game for us. But it’s a game we want to play and relish.”
With coronavirus restrictions in Germany limiting the attendance at the imposing Westfalen Stadium to just 10,000, it is set to be a less intimidating atmosphere for Rangers who know they will have the benefit of a full Ibrox Stadium for the second leg next week.
“Of course, it is different to play in front of 10,000 people rather than a full stadium,” added van Bronckhorst. “But we are still playing a good team, that’s no difference.
“We know we have the game at Ibrox next week so we want to take as good a result as possible into that.
“With full capacity and full backing at home, the difference is there. But our aim is the same, to get the best result possible.”
Rangers’ defence, without the injured Leon Balogun and ineligible Filip Helander, will not have to face Erling Haaland. The brilliant 21-year-old Norwegian striker, Dortmund’s top scorer this season with 23 goals in 20 appearances, has been ruled out by a muscle problem.
“Everyone knows the player he is,” said van Bronckhorst. “He is one of the top strikers in the world. For us, it’s just a case of preparing for the game without him.
“Dortmund have been playing without him for weeks, so we prepare for the opposition we face.”
Van Bronckhorst will look for his own striking talisman, the in-form Alfredo Morelos, to come up with a piece of inspiration which could turn the tie in Rangers’ favour.
“You have players who will play with intuition in moments of the game,” he said. “We have to give that freedom to players - not only Alfredo but other players, especially the strikers.
“You want to have your defensive and offensive shape as a team. Alfredo has a big role in that. So of course, in moments, he has to take the position we want him to become dangerous and in a better shape as a team.
“But there are moments when he has freedom to do whatever he feels. He is one of the players who can do that.
“We have Ryan Kent who also has the freedom to do whatever he wants in areas we want him to be in. So it’s a combination.”
The game also has personal significance for van Bronckhorst with the presence in the Dortmund squad of 19-year-old Giovanni Reyna, son of his former Rangers team-mate Claudio and who was named after him.
“I played with Claudio and I’m very good friends with the whole family for many years,” said van Bronckhorst.
“I’ve known Gio from the day he was born, so I have a special relationship with him as a friend but also as a player.
“He came to Holland quite a lot to train with our academy at Feyenoord. He was in our house and we were trying to help him to be the player he is now.
“We have kept in contact and always see each other at least once a year. It’s a special bond I have with the Reyna family.
“It will be special for both of us to play against each other. Hopefully it’s a good game. The competitors we both are, we want to win. But it is obviously a very special moment.”
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