Rangers well warned if they face Maribor in Europa League

Rangers suffered defeat the last time they faced Maribor, in a Europa League tie in 2011. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Rangers suffered defeat the last time they faced Maribor, in a Europa League tie in 2011. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Maribor, the Slovenian club who have left a trail of destruction behind them when facing Scottish opponents in Europe within the past decade, could be the next hurdle facing 
Steven Gerrard if he can lead Rangers into the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

The new Ibrox manager’s reward for a second qualifying round victory over Croatian side Osijek would be a tie against either Maribor or unheralded Georgian outfit Chikhura Sachkhere.

Yesterday’s draw in Nyon also handed Aberdeen the incentive of a meeting with big-spending Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir, if they can overcome Burnley in the 
second qualifying round.

What appears a slightly kinder fate was afforded to Hibs who, if they beat Greek opponents Asteras, would play either Norwegian side Molde or Albanian minnows Laci in the third qualifying round.

None of the three Scottish teams can afford to look beyond their immediate tasks at hand, of course, with the first legs of their respective second qualifying round ties all taking place on Thursday this week.

Should Rangers extend their run in the tournament, however, they will anticipate a showdown with Maribor who are warm favourites to be lying in wait.

It would be the fifth time in the past nine seasons Maribor have been paired with a Scottish club and they have won all four of those previous ties.

They crushed Hibs 6-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round of the Europa League in 2010-11, then humbled Ally McCoist’s Rangers side 3-2 in the play-off round 
of the same tournament the following year.

In 2014-15, it was Ronny Deila’s turn to suffer at Maribor’s hands when his Celtic team suffered a costly 2-1 aggregate defeat in the play-off round of the Champions League. Then, two years ago, Maribor eliminated Aberdeen 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

The only occasion when Maribor have lost to a Scottish team was back in 2001-02 when Rangers, then under the management of Dick Advocaat, defeated them 6-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

Maribor lost the Slovenian league title last season on goal difference to their biggest domestic rivals Olimpija Ljubljana. Head coach Darko Milanic, pictured inset, who oversaw the win over Rangers in 2011, is in his second spell in charge of Maribor after a break from the club which included a 32-day spell as Leeds United manager in 2014.

With veteran Brazilian captain Marcos Tavares still in scoring form, Maribor last week completed a 3-0 aggregate victory over Albanian side Partizani in their Europa League first qualifying round tie.

Their second-round opponents this week, Chikhura Sachkhere, are in Europe for only the fifth time in their history. From the north of Georgia, they have been owned by the country’s former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili since 2002.

Chikhura, who play their home European ties in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, secured their meeting with Maribor as a consequence of a shock 2-1 aggregate win over Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem in the first qualifying round.

Aberdeen are going to have to do it the hard way if they are to reach the group stage of the tournament. If they manage to knock out English Premier League opposition in Burnley, they face another daunting task against Basaksehir.

Only founded in 1990 in Istanbul, they are now establishing themselves as credible rivals to the city’s established powers of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

Two years ago, they narrowly missed out on a place in the Champions League group stage when they lost 4-3 on aggregate in the play-off round to Sevilla.

They reached the group stage of the Europa League last season and finished third in the Turkish Super League, just three points behind champions Galatasaray and only missing out on runners-up spot, and a place in the Champions League qualifiers, on their head-to-head record with Fenerbahce.

Playing at their 18,000-capacity Fatih Terim Stadium, Basaksehir are well funded and current squad members include on-loan Barcelona winger Arda Turan and former Arsenal and Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

Hibs, meanwhile, will anticipate a trip to Norway if they make it to the third qualifying round. Molde, under the management of former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, are favourites to overcome Laci who finished fourth in the Albanian top flight last season.

Solskjaer’s side are currently third at the halfway point of the Norwegian domestic season, six points behind leaders Brann, and defeated Glenavon of Northern Ireland 6-3 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Laci, from the north-west of Albania, are in Europe for only the fifth time in their history but recorded a surprise away goals victory over Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta in the first qualifying round.