Rangers Colts are out of the UEFA Youth League after an impressive campaign was halted by a disappointing 4-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid at Firhill this afternoon.
Graeme Murty’s side featured several names fans will be familiar with like Josh McPake, Nathan Patterson and Dapo Mebude, and having seen off Slovan Bratislava and Young Boys in the previous rounds, the Gers were eager to book their place in Friday’s last-sixteen draw.
The Spaniards finished runners-up to Juventus in the Champions League pathway, forcing them into the playoff as they looked to surpass their previous best in the tournament by reaching the quarter-finals.
Rangers almost grabbed a stunning opener within the first few minutes after an excellently-worked free-kick wide on the right gave Rhys Breen a free header but a superb reaction save from Saldaña denied him.
⏱45+' [ 0-1 ] ¡Descanso en Firhill Stadium! Nos vamos al vestuario con ventaja gracias al gol de Lama. ¡Bien, chicos!
— Atleti Academia (@AtletiAcademia) February 12, 2020
Just a minute later though, the visitors did take the lead after keeper Lewis Budinauckas misjudged a corner and Manuel Maroto headed home from close range with just six minutes played.
Despite going a goal down so early, the young Gers didn’t let their heads drop and continued trying to get the ball down on the sodden Firhill pitch and play their way forward.
The Light Blues looked confident in possession and seemed comfortable taking their time and trying to find gaps in the Atleti defence to exploit – with Nathan Patterson a particular threat down the right.
Murty’s side were the better of the two as the first-half reached the halfway point and went agonisingly close 25 minutes in as another Kai Kennedy set-piece caused problems for the Madrid defence but, despite several players stretching desperately, nobody could poke it beyond Saldana and level the scoreline.
The half-hour mark brought a shout for a penalty for Rangers as the impressive Dapo Mebude went down but the referee saw nothing in it and waved play on – much to the Ibrox striker’s bemusement.
Atletico had chances of their own to double their advantage, with Soriano and Riquelme both looking like really talented prospects, but there wasn’t a huge amount for Budinauckas to do as the Gers defence done well to largely deal with any threats.
The keeper did go some way to redeeming himself when he made a brilliant stop from Urena to send his strike over the bar before gratefully clutching the resulting corner as the half-time whistle neared.
There was one more chance for Rangers before referee Jérôme Brisard brought the first 45 to an end but, instead of putting a free-kick wide on the right into the box the Gers opted to play it short and try work it into the box, failing to make anything of it.
HALF-TIME: Rangers 0-1 Atletico Madrid
Manuel Maroto's early goal is the difference at the break pic.twitter.com/2STXC922Ho
— Rangers Youth Academy (@RFC_Youth) February 12, 2020
Rangers suffered a crushing blow right after the restart when Atletico rushed into a 2-0 lead and gave looked to have put the game to bed when Quintana poked the ball home from no distance at all.
A surging run from Riquelme wasn’t dealt with by the Rangers defence and the ball eventually fell to Quintana, who bundled it home and leave the Gers needing a massive turnaround.
The second goal saw Murty go for broke and introduce Nathan Young-Coombes from the bench in place of Murray Miller as he sacrificed a midfielder for an extra body in attack.
Rangers started putting the pressure on again as they looked for a way back into the game but struggled to really test Saldana in the Atleti goal.
There was a final throw of the dice for the Light Blues as John Balde and Kane Ritchie Hosler came off the bench in place Josh McPake and Cammy Palmer as the two returning loanees struggled to really impact the game.
With Rangers just getting their shape after the changes, a mix-up involving Budinauckas almost gifted the Spaniards a third goal but Urena’s shot went just wide of the target as the Gers keeper breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The third goal did come soon afterwards as the result was put beyond doubt by Soriana as he fired a neat finish beyond Budinauckas as sealed the win for the visitors.
With Rangers tiring, there was a fourth through Soto as Atletico took advantage of the Gers being upfield and swiftly counter-attacked, finding plenty of space, before Soto rifled the ball home.
Despite being deserved winners, the scoreline flattered Atletico a little although Riquelme is one player who looks to have a massive future ahead of him.
After a fantastic debut season in the competition, the Gers deserve a huge amount of credit as the club’s youngsters start to show real signs of being able to force their way into the first-team.
Rangers: Budinauckas; Patterson, Breen, Finlayson, Maxwell; Miller (Young-Coombes 52′), Dickson, Palmer (Ritchie-Hosler 72′); McPake (Balde 73′), Mebude, Kennedy
Subs not used: Hogarth, Butterworth, McClelland, King,