Spending a few days wandering around Seville ahead of Wednesday night’s Europa League final, there was an air of optimism amongst the Rangers fans that they could see off Eintracht Frankfurt and lift the second European trophy in their club’s history. The city was swarming with Rangers fans as they travelled in their thousands hoping to see their team do the unthinkable and lift major silverware.
Confidence was high, as the players had given them the opportunity to dream big once again. It wasn’t arrogance; it was more a trust in Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and his players based on how they’ve played in the last month or so.
After seeing off German sides Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, the optimism was fully justified as Van Bronckhorst breathed new life into the squad. There has been an inner confidence about them that they’d lost at the turn of the year.
Clearly the game didn’t play out the way everyone had hoped and I think it will eat away at the Rangers players and management for the foreseeable future because it was a winnable game. Eintracht are a good side, getting to the final tells you that, but Rangers had more than enough within their squad to overcome them and that will hurt Van Bronckhorst and his players.
Rangers have got their pride back and put their club’s name back on the lips of supporters around Europe and it has given their own fans memories that will last for a long time to come.
They surpassed all expectations getting to the final but, unfortunately, they will have regrets and that will sting.
The European run has been based on proving the critics wrong and defying the odds.
On the game itself, as expected, there was very little between the teams. In the knock-out stages, both sides had been the underdogs in many of their encounters but both found a way to win and upset the odds, which made the game tough to call.
The first half was a nervy affair, as the occasion seemed to get the better of both sets of players. There was a lot at stake and it showed as misplaced passes and the simple things in the game were made to look difficult which was simply down to pressure.
Rangers struggled to get their main players into the game and it hindered them. James Tavernier and Ryan Kent have been their most influential players during their incredible run but both were on the periphery and it impacted them as an attacking force.
Joe Aribo’s opening goal brought the game to life and from that moment on, it was compulsive viewing as the game opened up. Both teams threw everything at it in a real slugfest as the heat took its toll but the players left everything on the pitch.
Major finals are usually decided in the big moments and Kevin Trapp, the Eintracht goalkeeper, produced two pieces of magic to snatch the trophy from the grasp of Rangers.
Kent will wonder how he didn’t manage to steer the ball past Trapp in the dying embers of the game.
It was a moment that could have escalated Kent’s career and profile but he hadn’t anticipated Trapp would pull off a top class save to deny him.
Penalty kicks mean there’s always going to be heartache for one individual and, unfortunately, that fell at the door of Aaron Ramsey. Trapp once again showed his class.
Many were surprised Ramsey didn’t start the game and the fact he only got a couple of minutes raised a few more eyebrows. He’s a player of vast experience but he will feel like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He will be engulfed with guilt and frustration because of his miss.
Football is about fine margins and this time Rangers came out on the wrong side.
The one thing you can’t question is the renewed spirit and character this Rangers squad have accrued. They have showed they’re capable of bouncing back and that now has to be on the agenda as they try and salvage silverware in the Scottish Cup final.
They can’t feel sorry for themselves, football moves on and the Rangers players have to do that too, individually and collectively.