Who are Rangers Champions League opponents - the Brighton-linked Belgian league shock troops Royale Union Saint-Gilloise?

Rangers return to Belgium on European duty next month after being paired with Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League – but it is a step into the unknown for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team.

The Union are an old, but relatively small Belgian side, and shocked the Jupiler League last term on their first season in the country’s top flight for half a century.

After winning the second division in 2021 – when Rangers were celebrating their 55th Scottish league triumph – Union took the step up to take on the best in Belgium last season and topped the regular league after 34 games, though Club Brugge were crowned again via the post-season play-off system that dictates the country’s champions.

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Rangers land Belgian surprise package Union Saint-Gilloise in Champions League q...

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It was their highest finish since 1935 – the last of the club’s league titles – but for the remainder of the last century they have lived in the shadow of their Brussells neighbours RSC Anderlecht.

Karel Geraerts’ side will pose a threat to Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side though. They did the double over Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht team en route to their runners-up position under Felice Mazzu, who later replaced the ex-Manchester City defender and now Burnley boss at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.

Personnel changes

The change in manager will add another element of the unknown to the fixture but last season much of the Belgians’ success came from their settled line-up which switched between 3-5-2 and a 5-3-2 and led them to top of the league in mid-October – a position they maintained until the play-offs.

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Union's Karel Geraerts is unveiled as new head coach, replacing Felice Mazzu who moved to Anderlecht.(Photo by NOE ZIMMER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

In Rangers favour, the Union's star striker, Turkish-German forward Deniz Undav has returned to Brighton after his loan spell which reaped 25 goals in 33 games, though 24-year-old strike partner Dante Vazeir remains a threat after 13 goals last term.

Undav’s move from Union to the English Premier League was agreed in January but he remained for the duration of the season until this summer's move. The Belgians are co-owned by Seagulls chairman Tony Bloom.

Danish midfielder Casper Nielsen is also expected to move on to champions Brugge.

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In Belgium

Union's Siebe Van Der Heyden, Dylan Crustin and last season's head coach Felice Mazzu celebrate second-place in the Jupiler League play-offs (Photo by LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The team is not the only jeopardy either.

Rangers could be heading for the compact little Stade Joseph Mariens next month, where a four-figure capacity would spark a race for tickets for fans hoping to follow the team. However, Rangers have a strong recent record in Belgium.

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Under Steven Gerrard in 2020-21 two visits brought two wins against Standard Liege and Royal Antwerp – including Kemar Roofe’s memorable strike from the halfway line in the group stage which set-up the knock-out win over two legs against Antwerp.

Indeed, Rangers have only lost once to a Belgian side in 10 European fixtures – a 4-1 thumping from Liege in 1962.

Union's Christian Burgess celebrates after scoring during a friendly match against Rebecq. (Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

A repeat against the little-known minnows is unlikely, but Giovanni van Bronckhorst will be on his guard to ensure Rangers do advance to the play-off round this season after disappointment against Malmo at this stage a year ago.

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The game in Belgium will take place on August 2 or 3 with the return leg at Ibrox a week later. The UCL play-off follows in the following fortnight before the group stage proper begins in September.

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