MATCH REPORT: Rangers vs SC Braga

By This Is Ibrox
 February 22, 2020

The latest chapter to this season’s wonderful European run for Rangers saw SC Braga of Portugal travel to Ibrox Stadium for the first leg of what promised to be an intriguing tie. The Portuguese outfit were on a wonderful run of form with victories over Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and our group stage adversaries, FC Porto.

The latter was a victorious domestic cup final and it was perhaps no real surprise that former ‘B’ team coach Ruben Amorim was ‘getting a tune’ out of his players after he replaced the previous coach Ricardo Sa Pinto in September last year. Since then, their form has been good and consistent. Truth is, they perhaps fly under the radar of Sporting, Benfica and Porto – indeed, I was one of the supporters, whether there was many of us or not I don’t know, but reasonably pleased to draw them in the round of thirty-two.

From a Rangers perspective, domestically we hadn’t been playing like we had prior to the winter break. Performances have been mediocre at best and with results against Hearts and Kilmarnock not going in our favour, supporters perhaps looked at the tie with a little bit of trepidation but certainly welcoming the opportunity to see another European tie at our home.

A tie that would be Steven Gerrard’s fifteenth at Ibrox – he’s yet to lose one and when you throw in some of the names that have turned up – FC Porto, YBB, Feyenoord, Villareal to name four of the previous to come and fail to take victory back home, that’s an outstanding record and one that he’ll surely be proud of. As supporters, it’s something we should be proud of.

The rallying calls pre-match came from none-other-than our very own MD Stewart Robertson – a plea to watch our p’s and q’s and the tone was set for kick-off with another Union Bears excellent, excellent flag display covering the Broomloan Road stand. To the commoner like myself, I’ve no idea how much these must cost to produce but they really are wonderful sights to see and the SC Braga players must have known they had a game on when they walked out the tunnel and were so warmly welcomed!

Rangers were starting with their typical 4-3-3 formation with Borna Barasic returning to left-back and Glenn Kamara joining Steven Davis and Scott Arfield in midfield, the latter enjoying a really good run of form. Ianis Hagi started his first European encounter for us with his father, the great Gheorge, watching on from the pleasure of the Directors Box.

The Portuguese side started were a team I knew little about to be honest, I’d read that their defence could be a bit suspect, but they appeared to be solid 7s or 8s everywhere else. This was a good, good team. As we were about to find out…

SC Braga started better than us. I wouldn’t necessarily say they started quicker particularly but their use of the ball, particularly in the first twenty minutes was very good.

They were relaxed on the ball on a much-maligned Ibrox surface. From that opening period, I was fascinated by the way they were playing, regardless of whether they had the ball or not they always had their top three occupying the spaces between our defenders – however, the flanks was where the tie looked like being decided.

The SC Braga right-back, Galeno, an early substation for the injured Wallace, was adopting space all over the place down the right-hand side and was giving Barasic plenty to think about. On the other side Nuno Sequeira also bombed on and on. The back five they seemed to be starting with was actually a three with the two full backs steaming on as and when they liked supporting the two in midfield but primarily trying to create for the dangerous Abel Ruiz.

Within that twenty minutes, the match could’ve been out-of-sight for us. Allan McGregor makes a really good stop down to his left-hand side as Braga continued to pepper our goal but despite the, what appeared like constant pressure, we had good chances of our own with Morelos – who I thought was excellent last night – bending his runs to perfection to get in behind the Braga backline.

Firstly, his assist that Ryan Kent must’ve been close to dinking in and then the effort he had himself when he fired at the Braga keeper when clean through. Sandwiched between the entertainment was the first goal of the night and it came, deservedly, for the visitors.

Rangers lost possession in the middle of the park and Fransergio managed to shrug off the challenge from Scott Arfield before cutting his right foot across the ball and sending the ball high beyond McGregor. It was a wonderful strike. And it had been coming.

Braga continued to have a real go for the remainder of the first half but couldn’t capitalise on their early goal. I remember speaking to the

guys that sit around me at the game – ‘I just can’t see us breaking them down and scoring here tonight lads!’

I’m a fan of Glenn Kamara however he did not have one of his better games in a blue shirt – he had more than a few wayward moments in the first half and within thirty seconds of the second almost handed a second goal to Braga.

Fortunately, they couldn’t capitalise, but it would ultimately lead to his last involvement in the game and he was replaced by Joe Aribo shortly after. Just before the hour mark, Braga managed to get another away goal in the tie.

Rangers were a little bit untidy on the right-hand-side and Paulinho, almost playing as a shadow striker, slipped away from Niko Katic who had been dragged inside and played the ball to Abel Ruiz who drove on and skidded an effort beyond Allan McGregor and the visitors appeared reasonably comfortable. Their ball maintenance was better than ours but from our perspective the real treats of the evening were still to come, and the deficit was halved soon after.

Ianis Hagi, I felt, had been pretty quiet on the night and perhaps is more suited to being a ‘ten’ as opposed to being one of two narrow wide men. The Romanian does however look a very good player, incredibly two-footed and you’d have to imagine if there’s a deal to be done then the powers- that-be are looking into that right now. Hagi was about to kickstart Rangers fortunes in the tie and he done it with some gusto.

On sixty-seven minutes, Steven Davis dug the ball out of his feet and spread the play out to Hagi who was playing in an almost inside right role at this stage – he cut inside his marker, moved into the box and drove the ball into the next via the Braga goalkeepers left-hand post. Rangers had scored but surely we weren’t back in it?

Now, this was the turning point in the game for me, the stadium changed, the fans and the atmosphere changed and despite still trailing in the match, we were rejuvenated in some respects.

Hagi couldn’t get back to the restart quick enough. The place was bouncing and there was a belief we could score again. Gerrard fancied it too, you could tell by his body language that rather than watch them play nice pass, pass, pass, it was high time we got in their faces and got Morelos running in behind being a wee nuisance and generally noising them up.

He changed it – Kent never had much joy in the game at all and was replaced by Flo Kamberi who was asked to play what appeared to be a two with Morelos and Hagi just sitting behind. It was neither of them that brought Rangers right back into the game however.

Hagi played a nice one-two with Joe Aribo and the Nigerian international galloped beyond two Braga challenges and then a third and a fourth before he calmly slotted in beyond the goalkeeper. Ibrox erupted! The celebrations in that corner looked amazing! I have family that sit in that part of the ground and they assure me it was buzzing down there.

By this time, he’d been filling in at left-back as Barasic had to go off following a clumsy challenge on the halfway line. The performance he put in last night and the subsequent praise from the manager can only do Joe Aribo good.

This season has been a huge learning curve for Aribo – a young, quiet, unassuming boy who’s came up from London just to play his football. If he scores a better or more important goal, then I hope it’s in a Rangers shirt for us all to enjoy it and he does it in our wonderful stadium.

A friend of mine who was at the game suggested the tie at two apiece was basketball-esque but I just didn’t see us losing at that point. Of course, you’re always concerned when these quick European teams break out on you, but I did at that point think we’d be taking a draw to Portugal.

Shows you what I know.

With ten minutes to go, we were awarded a free-kick, perhaps thirty yards out. Hagi, Tavernier and Davis were all around the ball – probably all eager to hit it, the Northern Irishman walked away so the crowd were aware it would be the Captain or Hagi that would step up. Now as he ran up to strike the ball, it moved slightly so he stopped and replaced the ball in the position.

He tried again and via the help of a slight deflection the ball nestled in the back of the net. Cue absolute bedlam in thestands! It may very well be the goal that keeps us in the tournament – it’s certainly the goal that makes the trip to Portugal next Wednesday all the more interesting.

Steven Gerrard was understandably delighted at the end. The effect and general pull of our manager should never be underestimated – the sight of the Braga unused subs and backroom staff making a beeline at the end of the match to shake his hand just reminds us all of Steven Gerrard, Rangers Manager.

And on that, it’s a fifteenth European tie at Ibrox that he’s seen us through, and I’d suggest SC Braga were the best we’ve faced to date. Whether you’re in the camp that thinks we were very poor, or they were very good, or we rode our luck – truth is, we’re still very much in the tie and have a chance of making it into the last sixteen. Oh, and for those who have said, ‘he doesn’t know how to change it’, he did last night, and it worked.

Because they were good. They were a good, good team.

Scott Paterson

@ScottyPaterson6 IG: scotthpaterson

@thisisibroxIG: thisisibrox

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