In a season that still holds some promise for Rangers, the fixtures are coming thick and fast.
Following the disappointment of Sunday’s Premiership defeat to Celtic, and before the Glasgow rivals meet again in the Scottish Cup, the Ibrox side are back under the European spotlight when they face Braga in the Europa League quarter-finals.
It’s the first time since 2008 that a Scottish side has gone so far in European competition, and has supporters dreaming they can produce a repeat of that season and go all the way to the final.
With Barcelona, Atalanta, Roma and West Ham among the sides still in the tournament, many felt that Rangers had one of the more favourable draws but manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst says he’s under no illusions about the size of the task ahead.
Speaking ahead of the first leg in Portugal, the Rangers boss said his side would have to bring their A game if they were to prevail.
“I think Braga are a very good team, a very strong team,” he said. “They won against Benfica last weekend, so that’s going to be difficult to overcome.
“We have a big challenge ahead of us, but we relish the chance to go into the semi-finals. We have to go out and perform well to get there after next week.
“In the last years the team performed really well, also with Steven (Gerrard) being involved in Europe after the winter break, which is also very good.
“Now we are one stage further and we will try to get into the semi-finals. It’s not very often a Scottish team can reach a semi-final in Europe so that means we are performing well in Europe and that’s what we want to continue and to overcome Braga as well, which will be very difficult.
“To reach a semi-final, there is all to play for and we go out tomorrow and next week to win this tie.”
The tie doesn’t just represent a chance for progress itself, but also the opportunity to lift the club after their Premiership hopes were dealt a heavy blow with home defeat against Celtic, and after news that Alfredo Morelos will miss the rest of the season.
Defender Calvin Bassey didn’t mask the disappointment of losing last weekend and feels that the chance to lift the support again is a major motivation when they take to field against Braga.
He said: “It would mean a lot to put a smile back on their faces.
“They have been with us through the highs and lows of the season and we just want to give them another high tomorrow.
“It would be a confidence booster for us as well. I think it is important for us to go out there and give 110%, nothing less, and try and get a result to put a smile back on the faces of our fans.
“Of course Braga are a good team but we have got this far and we have hopes of getting further. “We know that they are a good team and we know that we will have to be at our best.
“There is a bit of confidence taken from the games we have had previously against Dortmund and Red Star and what we have had to overcome. As someone said before, the character shown from us has been amazing and we will show that same character, that same drive and same passion and hopefully get a result in Portugal.”
Those previous wins, as underdogs against well-known opposition, will have bolstered Rangers’ reputation abroad but Braga come into the game having just beaten Champions League quarter-finalists Benfica while on league duty.
Boss Carlos Carvahal may be taking his team into the game believes the team’s psychological strength is what will make them adifficult opponent
“The mentality of the Scottish teams and British teams is that they don’t cry over spilt milk,” he said. “They lost [to Celtic], it’s over and they will be focused on our game.
“Of course, it was heavy for them (defeat), there is no doubt about that, but I know they will overcome this adversity.
“British people and Scottish people are very good at this. So we have to be at our best.”
Rangers will be coming up against a new generation of talent in an exciting Braga side and Carvahal thinks his players will be spurred on by the chance to catch the eye of other clubs in a high-stakes match.
“We’ve got the youngest team left in the Europa League,” he said. “We have a lot of boys with very good quality.
“David Carmo was linked last year with Liverpool. We have a lot of talented players aged 17, 18, 19 who want to play in England.
“They now have a good opportunity to show their abilities to the clubs across the world. The clubs will look to the manager but also the players.”
With the first leg being played at the striking Estádio Municipal de Braga, Rangers will be hoping to strike an early blow before the return leg at Ibrox next week.
A semi-final against RB Leipzig or Atalanta lies in wait for the winner, and the side that comes out on top on Thursday evening will start to dream that their European adventure can continue a little longer.
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