While the cliche of no easy games in Europe might hold appropriate caution at this level of competition, the Ibrox side’s potential pairing with Malmo FF was perhaps one to avoid given the alternatives.
The Swedish side has still to overcome HJK Helsinki in this week’s second round of qualifiers, but will be heavy favourites to do so and set up a trip to the southside of Glasgow from Scandinavia. The same journey was made by the squads a decade ago, at the same stage of the competition – and with even greater sense of irony, in the last time Rangers were involved in the UEFA Champions League.
Back then, it didn’t fall for the Scottish champions’ favour.
The third-round qualifier ended in elimination under Ally McCoist, 2-1 on aggregate, and angry scenes with 19 players finishing the tie in Sweden, where the hosts had scored a late equaliser against nine men to progress.
Majid Bougherra and Steven Whittaker were red-carded for the visitors and Ricardinho was also ordered off in a stormy battle of a second leg. Rangers had spurned a series of chances in the Ibrox encounter to travel on the back of a one-goal defeat but Nikica Jelavic’s opener wasn’t enough to force extra time and that first-leg prolifigacy proved costly combined with Whittaker’s early dismissal.
While Malmo will be facing a stronger proposition under Steven Gerrard, should they progress, Steven Davis and Allan McGregor are the two survivors in the Rangers side from the Eleda Stadion line-up which also included the likes of Steven Naismith, Lee Wallace and 2011 summer signing Juanma Ortiz.
Losing to Malmo only told half of the story of the 2011-12 season though. Rangers fell into the Europa League where their European ambitions were ended by NK Maribor – costly defeats in more ways than one.
The European elimination meant missing out on the lucrative group stage cash and the club’s finances were brought further into focus through proceeding months when the club was eventually placed in administration in February 2012.
Malmo had been the first bump in the road under new owner Craig Whyte, and one which became significantly rockier as Rangers’ financial issues increased and led to starting the following season in the domestic Division Three.
‘The Journey’ as it became known, reached it’s destination in May with the return of the league title to Ibrox, qualification for this season’s Champions League and maybe, and by co-incidence, another meeting with Malmo.
The Swedish league leaders are currently midway through their season and have a fairly formidable recent record against Scottish sides themselves.
In 2015 they eliminated Celtic having taken two away goals back to Sweden after a 3-2 win over Ronny Deila’s side. That rule has been abolished this season – and Rangers host the second leg – but six years ago, their Old Firm rivals fell 2-0 in Sweden too. A couple of years earlier the Swedes’ stunning 7-0 win at Easter Road completed a 9-0 aggregate rout over Hibs.
To ensure another Scottish trip though, they face Alfredo Morelos’ old club, HJK Helsinki in Wednesday night’s first leg.