With Europa League football now guaranteed, Rangers make their long-awaited return to European competition after five years in the wilderness. Naturally the co-efficient has taken something of a hammering without the Gers on the continent, compounded by the shambolic performances of our city rivals, but it is time to have a look and see who Rangers can actually face in Europe’s second-biggest cup tournament.
Rangers enter into the first qualifying round, along with St Johnstone, but naturally cannot get Tommy Wright’s men due to the fact both are seeded, not to mention country protection. But who can Pedro’s men face up against in the opening round?
A trip to Ireland could be on the cards to Shamrock Rovers who currently sit fifth in the League of Ireland Premier League, and qualified for this by way of Cork City playing Dundalk in the cup final. This freed up another UEL slot which gave Rovers eligibility down in fourth place. Sounds a little close to home…
Incidentally, Cork City themselves are another possibility for Rangers having finished second.
Or Celtic’s destroyers in 2016 Lincoln Red Imps might get pulled out of the hat giving Rangers a long trip to Gibraltar. Other possibilities in the first round give Rangers trips to Georgia (Torpedo Kutaisi), the Faroes (NSI Runavik), or Moldova (Zaria Balti). In the first round for seeded teams, there is no such thing as a ‘glamour tie’.
Should Ped the Ted’s men get through the banana skin of round 1, round 2 awaits with infinitely better known outfits. As an unseeded team this time, Rangers will get a distinctly tougher tie with clashes with Israelis Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Danes Brondby, Croatians Hadjuk Split, and yes, both Aberdeen and St Johnstone could be there, but Rangers cannot get them by way of country protection. Other possibilities are Sweden’s AIK Stockholm and Serbian Giants Red Star.
If Rangers somehow get to round 3, the hike in quality will be stark. AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and Everton all enter the competition here providing a brutal test for a hopefully new-look Rangers, and even the most optimistic Bear probably does not have Rangers getting to round 3 far less getting past the likes of the Rossoneri or the Toffees.
But this was a flavour of the calibre of opponent Rangers will definitely face. Leagues around Europe are still to complete their domestic campaigns so not all places are filled, but of the ones that are, this was a hint of what awaits the Ibrox men in the next couple of months.
Hopefully a team is assembled that gives Rangers a fighting chance.