Rangers’ Europa League dreams are still alive after a stunning 3-2 aggregate win over Braga saw the Gers need extra time at Ibrox tonight to book a semi-final against RB Leipzig.
James Tavernier scored twice before Kemar Roofe’s 100th-minute goal sealed a 3-1 win on the night in front of a packed house at Ibrox.
The Light Blues made two changes from the weekend with Gio van Bronckhorst making a somewhat surprising call to go with Calvin Bassey at centre-back alongside Connor Goldson rather than Leon Balogun, with Borna Barisic retaining his place at left-back.
Ibrox was absolutely rocking when Kemar Roofe got things underway and Rangers looked to overturn the one-goal lead from the first leg in Portugal.
With just over a minute gone the noise levels somehow increased and the dream was very much on, James Tavernier ghosting in at the back post and squeezing the ball in underneath Matheus and giving Rangers the lead on the night and drawing level on aggregate.
The Gers had started with a clear intent, Barisic and Kent combining well and the former’s cross into the box was flicked on by Aribo and Tavernier finished really well to grab his fifth Europa League knockout round goal of the season; say what you want about the Rangers skipper, his numbers are outrageous for a defender.
Things had only just settled down when Rangers went 2-0 up as Kemar Roofe got on the end of another cross from Barisic and the Jamaican international nodded home – however, VAR would intervene and pull it back for a handball by Barisic.
It had been an almost perfect start and the visitors were looking rattled in the early stages, Fabiano and Andre Castro giving up acres of space and allowing the Ibrox side to flood forward.
The Light Blues were dominating possession as the game slowed into a bit more of a rhythm, although Braga were slowly starting to find their feet after spending most of the opening fifteen minutes being pinned in their own area.
While Rangers’ pressing lost some of its intensity towards the middle of the first half, they were having great joy getting forward down the left and exploiting the struggling Fabiano; Barisic delivering some delightful balls into the area that the Light Blues couldn’t take advantage of.
Roofe will have been left wondering how he didn’t make it 2-0, getting on the end of a corner and somehow putting his effort off the underside of the bar with the goal gaping.
The pressure was building again heading towards the break as the hosts started going back up through the gears and pushing Braga further and further back.
The chances were coming with increasing frequency and the second goal had to come soon for Rangers otherwise they would really start to be getting a bit wasteful.
With four minutes until the break, the three words every fan loves to hear were uttered as it was penalty to Rangers time.
Roofe was barged down as he broke through on goal, Tormena barging through the Gers star and earning himself a red card in the process.
Tavernier stepped up after a VAR check on the decision before firing right down the middle to make it six goals in the knockout rounds of the Europa League this season and leave Rangers a little over 45 minutes away from a European semi-final.
Incredibly, the Rangers captain’s strike drew him level as the top goalscorer in the competition this season.
It had been an outstanding opening 45 from Rangers and they were deservedly ahead on the night and on aggregate.
There was a real sense of urgency about Rangers after the restart, with a couple of opportunities in the opening five minutes, Joe Aribo going closest to making it 3-0.
Rangers were dominating and looked to be on their way to a clash with Leipzig later this month with Braga looking bereft of ideas and struggling to get any sort of momentum going in the game.
Like the first half, Rangers were guilty of being a little wasteful at times in front of goal and with only one goal in it, it was still far from certain that the tie was done.
Just after the hour, the Gers came as close as they could to making it three when Connor Goldson watched as his effort cracked off the outside of the post and away – although the linesman’s flag would go up anyway.
Aaron Ramsey was next to go close, heading over the bar from yet another delightful Barisic cross; the Welshman having put in an impressive shift deserved to get his name on the scoresheet and kill the tie.
Then with 20 minutes left, Roofe had the ball in the back of the net for a second time, Roofe showing great composure to dink it over Matheus.
A flag from the assistant would rule out the striker’s effort for the second time and leave the Ibrox support still craving a third.
As the minutes ticked away, there was growing confidence in the stands that Braga weren’t going to find their way back into the game in the final quarter of an hour.
Van Bronckhorst turned to his bench with eleven minutes to go, Scott Wright and Glen Kamara coming on for Ryan Jack and the impressive Aaron Ramsey.
Just as Rangers looked comfortable, Braga silenced the home fans with a goal that levelled the tie up as the Light Blues failed to deal with a corner allowing David Carmo to head home and set up a massive final seven minutes.
It should have been out of sight long before Carmo got the chance to score and the Light Blues only had themselves to blame after a bit of slack play was followed by equally disjointed defending at the corner.
Rangers were forced into a change in the final moments of normal time, Barisic going off to be replaced by Balogun and prompting a reshuffle in defence.
The five minutes of injury time would see Braga taking control and look the more likely to score before the referee’s whistle blew and signalled an extra thirty minutes to settle it.
At this point, Rangers could only blame themselves for failing to kill the game off, having more than enough to have scored another one or two on another day.
The substitution of Ramsey and Jack was looking to have been ill-advised and played a big part in taking away a lot of Rangers’ momentum as they tried to finish Braga off.
The opening period of extra time was much harder for Rangers than any of the 90 previous, labouring their passes and struggling to break down the Braga defence.
After ten minutes of huffing and puffing it proved to be third time lucky for Kemar Roofe when the Jamaican bundled the ball over the line and restored Rangers’ lead.
Ibrox suddenly burst back into life before Braga were reduced to nine men when Medeiros lost the plot and got in the referee’s face.
If Roofe’s goal hadn’t killed the game, the second red card surely did.
Scott Arfield and Fashion Sakala came off the bench at the midway point of extra-time, Roofe and Aribo coming off, as the Rangers support partied away.
The chances kept coming – and being passed up – and Arfield somehow managed to hit the bar when he should have scored but it wouldn’t matter in the end.
Rangers are 180 minutes away from Seville and the Europa League final.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Bassey, Barisic, Lundstram, Jack, Aribo, Ramsey, Roofe, Kent.
Subs: McLaughlin, McCrorie, Balogun, King, Davis, Kamara, Sands, Arfield, Lowry, Amad, Wright, Fashion Jr.
Braga: Matheus, Fabiano, Oliveira, Tormena, Carmo, A. Horta, Andre Castro, Al Musrati, Ruiz, R. Horta, Gomes.
Subs: Sa, Couto, Leite, Minerio, Medeiros, Buta, Gorby, Moura, Couto, Rodrigues, Fale, Vitor Oliveira.
In other news, Rangers stars learn new playoff dates as Jack and Ramsey eye World Cup duel