Rangers 2 Galatasaray 1
Rangers made the group stage of the Europa League for the third season in succession with an ultimately comfortable win over Galatasaray, their first in three encounters with the Turkish side. The crucial blows were struck by Scott Arfield and James Tavernier – with his seventh goals in as many games on the bounce – early in the second half to secure a minimum return of £10 million, some of which will be devoted to Steven Gerrard’s quest for a first domestic title.
That said, Marcao’s headed goal in the 86th minute made for a nerve-shredding finish for the former Liverpool and England captain.
Aside from the surreal and oppressive context of a global pandemic, the circumstances of both sides were greatly diminished from the days when they last met, in the Champions League group stage of the 2000-01 competition. Galatasaray, in particular, had been in classy company without looking out of place, having beaten Arsenal on penalty kicks in Denmark to win the 2000 Uefa Cup, following up with a victory in the Super Cup final over European champions, Real Madrid.
Last season saw a dramatic contrast from the glories of two decades ago, as Galatasaray were battered 6-0 by Paris St Germain and 5-0 by Real in the group stage of the Champions League. Rangers, too, have long since bid farewell to the spendthrift style of Dick Advocaat, who was in charge at Ibrox in 2000 and Gerrard stated on the eve of this game that progress at this level would have a significant bearing on further investment in the current squad.
The presence of Ianis Hagi would have attracted exceptional attention from the capacity crowd which this fixture would have generated had times been normal, with the travelling fans sure to have targeted the son of one of their most illustrious players, Gheorge, who won four Turkish league titles with Istanbul’s Eagles between 1996 and 2000, as well as powering the club to European success.
Hagi junior was energetic without being ultimately effective, a description that applied to Rangers as a whole when the interval arrived goalless. The opening 10 minutes were their property as they pressed relentlessly and when they forced their first corner kick there were insistent claims that Martin Linnes had handled, but he did not look culpable, even within the broad parameters of the new handball law.
Borna Barisic’s deliveries from crosses and corner kicks comprised Rangers’ principal menace and when Connor Goldson connected with a powerful header the ball came off the skull of Christian Luyindama and swirled narrowly over Fatih Ozturk’s crossbar. It seemed at that stage that Galatasaray must soon buckle.
Instead, the visitors mustered their composure and began to threaten intermittently at the other end of the field, where Allan McGregor was exposed but reprieved when a dropping ball fell just beyond the outstretched boot of the advancing Younes Belhanda. Galatasaray could easily have edged the lead had Sofiane Feghouli not slashed wildly at a raking cross from Ryan Babel.
Hagi, though, played a crucial part in Rangers’ breakthrough when it arrived seven minutes after the break when Tavernier played a pass to feet at the edge of the box and the midfielder tapped into the path of Arfield, whose finish was surgical. Taavernier promptly doubled Rangers’ advantage when he rose above Omar Elabdellaoui to meet Barisic’s cross with a powerful header beyond Ozturk.
A productive evening for Rangers was extended when Hagi took his bow with 12 minutes left, to be replaced by Ryan Jack, whose appearance after four games out through injury was also a welcome sight for Scotland manager, Steve Clarke, ahead of next week’s Nations League play-off with Israel at Hampden Park.
There was still time, though, for Marcao’s scoring header to throw the remaining three minutes – and an added three – into doubt until the blessed relief of the final whistle.