Rangers lose to Braga as Europa League dream hangs by a thread

Rangers lose to Braga as Europa League dream hangs by a thread

Rangers have lost 1-0 to Braga in Portugal after the Light Blues put in a disappointing performance in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final clash.

However, with only one goal in it there is still life in the tie as Rangers look to join the winner of Atalanta v RB Leipzig in the semis.

Gio van Bronckhorst made three changes to the side that suffered defeat at the hands of Celtic on Sunday, Glen Kamara, Scott Arfield and Fashion Jr taking the places of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Aribo and Kemar Roofe in the starting XI.

Despite many Rangers fans feeling they just wanted to get the game out of the way in the days before, there was a real sense of anticipation by the time the game got underway in the picturesque ground known as The Quarry.

Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Rangers looked to be happy to sit back in the opening exchanges and try and take advantage of counter-attacks as Braga shaped up with an unfamiliar back four, moving away from the three-man central defence expected.

It was the Light Blues who carved out the first real chance of the game, Arfield’s ball finding Kent and forcing a save from the keeper before the rebound fell to Sakala but the Zambian saw his effort deflected wide for a corner.

There was a big worry for Braga just eight minutes in when Brazilian keeper Matheus appeared to pick up a hamstring injury and required lengthy treatment as the Braga bench anxiously waited to see if he could continue.

The 30-year-old would be fit to continue, albeit moving quite gingerly, as the Gers started to press Braga a bit higher up the pitch and putting the hosts under pressure deep in their own half of the pitch.

As the game passed the 15-minute mark, Rangers will have been happy enough with their performance, although van Bronckhorst will have had some concerns about just how open the play was.

Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Fabiano was lucky to get away without picking up a booking after a foul on Glen Kamara just outside the area, hauling the Rangers man down as he turned and broke at goal.

A few minutes later, David Carmo would become the first player to go in Davide Massa’s book, scything down Kamara as he desperately tried to break down a speedy counter.

Braga were far from out of it though and quickly reminded Rangers of the threat they posed when Horta cracked the base of the post with a powerful effort from inside the area.

The hosts thought they’d broken the deadlock just moments later, Horta again causing problems for Rangers before VAR would intervene for a foul on Ryan Jack and eventually rule the strike out, leaving Rangers breathing a huge sigh of relief.

It was a huge let-off for Rangers and should have served as a wake-up call for the Light Blues after a couple of defensive lapses had gifted opportunities to the hosts.

BRAGA, PORTUGAL – APRIL 07: André Horta of Sporting Braga scores the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Leg One match between Sporting Braga and Rangers FC at Estadio Municipal de Braga on April 07, 2022 in Braga, Portugal. Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

As the first half went into the final ten minutes, Fashion Sakala squandered the best chance of the opening 45 for Rangers, blasting the ball way off target when he really should have been forcing a save from Matheus in the Braga goal.

Ryan Jack’s night looked to be coming to a premature end 36 minutes in, injuring himself making a late challenge that earned him a booking; the midfielder stayed on after treatment but he looked far from comfortable.

Braga eventually did take the lead five minutes before half-time, Abel Ruiz showing great composure to fire beyond McGregor and end the keeper’s chances of keeping a clean sheet on his 100th European appearance for Rangers.

Balogun and Bassey should have done better to deny Braga the chance but it was an excellent finish from the Spanish forward as Rangers looked like falling out of the game.

The Light Blues were lacking any sort of out-ball and van Bronckhorst was going to have to change something at the break if his side were going to level the tie up ahead of next week’s second leg at Ibrox.

There had been positives – the opening 20 minutes saw Rangers largely on top – but the Gers seemed to lose their shape shortly before the disallowed goal.

Surprisingly, there were no changes at the break from the Light Blues, which given how ineffective the likes of Kamara had been left fans baffled.

There’s an argument for another day about how having the likes of Aaron Ramsey sitting watching on the bench as Kamara played a very unfamiliar role is a symptom of the shambles the club’s overall recruitment has been in recent transfer windows.

Rangers started the second 45 moving the ball around fairly well but with little purpose, passing it around largely in their own half of the pitch and not threatening to go anywhere.

Braga would accept the invitation to press the Gers, winning the ball comfortably before making the Rangers players chase it and put in some hard running.

The hosts were forcing Rangers further and further back, forcing the Gers to pass the pall from side to side on the edge of their own box as the sting was taken out of the game.

Van Bronckhorst finally turned to his subs after an hour, bringing on Kemar Roofe, Joe Aribo and Borna Barisic for Fashion Sakala, Ryan Jack and Leon Balogun.

Just how unfit must Aaron Ramsey be not to have been one of those introduced for the final 30 minutes?

Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

Rangers started to liven up a little after the changes as the game opened up a little and small gaps began to open up for the Gers to try play into.

A couple of changes from the hosts with 15 minutes to go ran down a few more minutes as Braga put in a composed performance to see out the game and head to Glasgow with a one-goal advantage.

There would be a couple of late half-chances to equalise but it wasn’t to be for the Gers.

Rangers’ European dream now hinges on 90 minutes in Glasgow’s south side next week as the Light Blues’ hopes of a famous April are in danger of ending in shambles.

Braga: Matheus, Y. Couto, Fabiano, Tormena, Carmo, Al Musrati, Medeiros, A. Horta, R. Horta, Ruiz, Gomes.
Subs: Tiago Sa, Hornicek, Liete, P. Oliviera, Mineiro, Buta, Moura, B. Couto, Rodrigues, Castro, Fale, V. Oliviera.

Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey, Lundstram, Jack, Kamara, Arfield, Kent, Sakala.
Subs: McLaughlin, McCrorie, Diallo, Davis, Ramsey, Aribo, Sands, Wright, Roofe, Barisic.

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