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Hagi fires double to round off stunning Rangers fightback

Rangers 3-2 Sporting Braga

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Rangers Ianis Hagi celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 20, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Rangers. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Rangers Ianis Hagi celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 20, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Rangers. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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Rangers Ianis Hagi celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 20, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Rangers. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Ianis Hagi delighted both his watching father Gheorghe and the Ibrox faithful as his double sent Rangers to a breathless 3-2 Europa League triumph over Braga.

On a wild night in Glasgow with the Ibrox pitch again in a terrible state, it appeared the Gers were set to slip up as the Portuguese visitors grabbed a two-goal lead.

First Braga's Brazilian skipper Fransergio tamed the conditions with a stunning long-range opener before on-loan Barcelona striker Abel Ruiz added a clinical second.

But Rangers refused to lie down as they hit back to preserve Gerrard's 15-game unbeaten home run in Europe as Light Blues boss and take a major step towards the last 16.

Hagi got the fight-back started as he pulled one back before playing a part in Joe Aribo's equaliser.

And the Romanian then had his dad - former Real Madrid and Barcelona great Gheorghe - cheering from his seat in the Ibrox directors box along with the rest of the jubilant Gers faithful as his late deflected free-kick crept into the net to seal victory.

However, Steven Gerrard's team will have to rely on-loan Hibernian striker Florian Kamberi to spearhead their attack in the second leg after Alfredo Morelos picked up a booking which rules him out of next Wednesday's trip to Portugal.

When Glen Kamara gifted possession on 11 minutes, Braga's response was merciless. Paulinho and Joao Palhinha regathered before working it to Fransergio, whose sensational 30-yard strike seemed to ride the wind on its way into McGregor's postage-stamp corner. Fransergio almost doubled Braga's lead just after half-time as another long-range beauty shook McGregor's crossbar.

But there was more frustration for Morelos on 57 minutes as he somehow failed to convert Hagi's cross from point-blank range.

Three minutes later Braga pounced again. Trincao's clever flick took Niko Katic out of the equation and Ruiz drove forwards, unleashing an explosive right-foot drive low past McGregor.

But it was Hagi who took on the responsibility of lifting a crowd that had fallen quiet.

He saw a deflected strike clawed away by Matheus but his next effort on 67 minutes was perfectly placed to beat the keeper as it clipped the inside of his left-hand post to send the volume levels soaring.

He then combined with Aribo on 75 minutes as the Nigerian wriggled past four defenders before slotting the leveller at the near post.

But the roar that met that strike was nothing compared to the one that followed on 82 minutes as Hagi's set-piece took a wicked bounce off the wall to wrong-foot Matheus and spark wild celebrations round Ibrox.

RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic (Stewart 73), Davis, Kamara (Aribo 54), Arfield, Hagi, Morelos, Kent (Kamberi 68). Subs not used: Edmundson, Foderingham, Halliday, Barker.

Sporting Braga: Lima Magalhaes, Fortuna dos Santos (Galeno 12), Viana Da Silva, Melo da Silva, De Sousa Esgaio, Machado Trincao, Rodrigues Barbosa, Palhinha (Barradas Novais 83), Sequeira, Ruiz (Da Luz Horta 70), Dias Fernandes.

Subs not used: Guerreiro Viana, Sa, Luz Horta, Fonte.

Man of the match: Hagi

Match rating: 9/10

Referee: Xavier E Fernandez (Spain)

Belfast Telegraph