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Those Champions League Nights

Rangers 2-2 PSV Eindhoven (UEFA Champions League Qualifiers)

The Ted McMinn Loyal (Rangers Supporters Club Derby) have been in touch. They called to ask if I wanted a lift but by the time I got back to them they had already a car full. They often run trips from Ripley in Derbyshire to Govan on the banks of the Clyde and will be heading up tonight like me, a ten hour plus round journey, to see their team play.


Last year, Rangers beat PSV at the very stage of the Champions League Qualifiers. A 2-2 draw at Ibrox followed a 1-0 win in the Netherlands where Antonio Colak’s winning goal was assisted by Malik Tillman.


Colak since moved to Parma whilst Tillman is tonight in the squad for PSV after a loan move from Bayern Munich, the Dutch side are 21 ‘competitive’ games unbeaten under Peter Bosz and have recently bolstered with additions of Noa Lang, Jerdy Schouten, Ricardo Pepi and Sergino Dest.


Rangers under Mick Beale lost their opening league game of the season at Kilmarnock but have since bounced back by knocking out Swiss side Servette in the UCL between wins over Livingston and Morton in the Scottish Premier Division and League Cup.


The Gers too bolstering their side this summer with acquisitions of Brazilian striker Danilo from Feyenoord, as well as Sam Lammers from Atalanta, Cyriel Dessers from Cremonese and Abdallah Sima on loan from Brighton amongst others.


I’m not gonna lie… Tonight I’m very excited to watch this game of Champions League football so fill up my flask, load up my man bag and in the car I get… 11am(ish) for a journey which sat nav says is just over 5 hours drive.


Like my last time in Glasgow when I went to watch Scotland v Spain, I’m choosing the M1 from Nottingham up to the A1 and across the A66 to Penrith joining the M6 and eventually M74 but no sooner have I joined Britain’s first and finest known major route am I being redirected off at Mansfield… Ignoring those calls from my in-built route planning system I’m annoyed with my decision an hour and a half later, stuck at Junction 28 in the middle of Derbyshire with two ways of the motorway closed no thanks to a lorry fire on the south carriageway, smoke is in the distance as I ‘F’ and ‘blind’ to myself aloud.


Finally… It’s getting on for 1pm and I trudge off the M1 (two junctions after I joined it) at a snails pace to then blast my accelerator down the floor pushing harder than ever to make some lost time.. I’m heading ‘south’ down the A38 before seeing signs for Matlock… I’ve decided to take the scenic route around Buxton and over the hills of the fabulous Peak District, absolutely stunning as I snake around the A537 but still some miles to travel as I reach Macclesfield by 2pm and rally up the Silk Road to get onto the Manchester Circular and the M60.


I’m looping past Stretford, the Trafford Centre and Eccles before joining the M61 where I pass the home of Bolton Wanderers Football Club, finally reaching the M6 I’ve not yet had a pit stop and get to Lancaster Services moments after my windscreen is cracked by a stray stone.


If my journey couldn’t get any worse, I’ve still got two hours to go but the M6 to Carlisle and Gretna is serenely quiet, equally so as the name changes to A74(M) through Scotland, the odd flick of rain to wipe between the hills but cloudy overcast, a bit of sun peering through I’m at Hamilton Services where I stop off to use the cash machine for a ten pound (Scottish note) I’m readying for stadium parking.

The Venue


I’ve made it in good time… There’s some heavy traffic approaching the M8 as I see Celtic’s Parkhead home sitting high on the hill to my right but I get to J23 and the Dumbreck Road for 6pm before driving down to the Albion Car Park where there’s plenty of spaces available.


Out my car with a couple of stretches I’m walking down the Edmiston Drive and heading for the Bill Struth Main Stand where the UEFA Office at Main Reception is port of call.


The stadium is red bricked grey roofed, four separate stands all vast and large, spacious outside with plenty of police presence, there’s the odd table selling sweeties and scarves as I notice the huge blue gates of Rangers Football Club Ltd beside a stunning art deco style stairwell which is enclosed by large amounts of small square frosted glass blocks, iconic looking it was built in 1928 with the listed stand actually having further development to increase its size and stature in the early 1990’s.


I’m walking behind the beautiful Main Stand with the road besides closed off for cars, fans waiting at the Players Entrance as I walk straight through the barriers, to the Main Reception, grand, church like, gospel inside, dull lit, tiled floors with wood panelled interior, there’s a room on the right which says UEFA Office, it’s small, messy, paper everywhere with a picture on the wall of a past player who looks like Sandy Jardine or Derek Johnstone (that era) and has a tea urn in the corner so I help myself, but can’t find the milk as I speak to a couple of foreign sounding blokes and ask ‘where can I get my ticket’.


Luckily, Colin my man from UEFA walks in and not only gives me my pass, but walks me through to my seat, chatting away in his soft Scottish tone and describing the venue’s perks as I’m led out of the stand back onto the street, to the next turnstile which says ‘media entrance’ and up through the stadium concourse to the middle level, passing the Members Lounge to my right before taking a couple of steps to the commentary positions where a number of people in the media chat to Colin on the way.


He says “unlike some new grounds the media’s view is relatively low at Rangers” before pointing to my seat, not far from halfway, front of the second tier I get a cracking panorama of this 50,000 seated stunning four sided blue painted arena.


The Game


There’s a tiny section of PSV fans in one corner of the Broomloan Stand to my left, the opposite wing has a small section of Rangers Ultras, dressed in black but surrounded by stewards they’re making all the noise as Ibrox slowly fills up.


The decibel levels are magnificent as the loud tannoy blasts ‘Every Saturday We Follow’ before the teams come out and a huge red, white and blue tifo is unfolded above the words ‘Surrender Or You’ll Die’ draped along the advertising boards behind the goal to my left, the moment which really gets my spine tingling however lands when the two teams walk out and the Champions League music is played… The most iconic theme tune in football has the hairs on my neck at raise.


You can’t even hear the whistle blown by Referee Clement Turpin to start the game, it’s that loud as Rangers attack to my left, traditional in blue, PSV soaking up the pressure and trying to stifle the crowd with possession based football, wearing cream shirts and attacking my right, it’s they who look superior as Bakayoko and Teze link up well down their right.


I’m impressed with Ibraham Sangare who’s been linked with a Premier League move this summer, he’s easy on the eye, always offering a hand from his defensive midfield slot, positionally astute, he nearly gives a pass away which shocks me, I’m reminding him to a young Yaya Toure during his Barcelona days, tall, physically strong, disciplined, selfless, making the game look very easy with one and two touch football.


For PSV’s dominance though, Rangers are gutsy, there’s a clear gulf in levels which is apparent on the eye but the Dutch pass masters play only one way, it’s actually their style which gets them in a spot of bother, Sangare who’s been brilliant is caught out on the edge of his box and the ball falls to Sima who curls home a beauty, the crowd go absolutely wild.


Sima has pace and is direct but his decision making isn’t at the levels perhaps that is required from his fans who moments before were cursing him for not getting into the box, that finish though a curling effort from the edge of the area giving them a moment to remember, I do however think, if things aren’t going Rangers way, this crowd can be a little hostile towards their own players.


That hostility however is nowhere to be seen at half time as Rangers fans sing Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ upon their teams return from break… And although PSV do equalise soon into the second half, Sangare on the end of a fabulous move to side foot home inside the box, the fans keep going, keep singing, keep believing, and it rubs off on their boys.


A sweeping counter-attack move led by Todd Cantwell who finds Dessers who lays in substitute Rabbi Matondo to run through and finish has the stadium at dangerous noise decibels again.. Fans are bouncing after Rangers score the goal of the game before VAR thankfully confirms all ok, the lead with the Scottish side, it’s been mostly against the run of play.


But those sounds of joy aren’t lived for long as a corner by Bakayoko is headed in by Luuk De Jong, a deserving leveller which keeps the tie on a knife edge, exactly how they were going into the second leg this time last year.


The Stars


If Sangare had my eyes from the outset having already heard about the potential interest in him, the player that I knew little about, who impressed me most was Johan Bakayoko the Belgian born winger who was very-very quick, direct and physically strong.


Teaming up with Bakayoko on the right and teasing the Rangers left-side was full back Teze who also looked equally so fast, so strong, aggressive too, it seems PSV will do well to keep their young and talented assets with those Premier League hawks hanging inevitably over their heads.


For Rangers, they were more ‘guts’ than ‘good’ as technically, the better team and individual play came from their opponents, Todd Cantwell ran around like a mad muppet and really got the crowd up at times, often winning nothing more than throw-ins for his team in the opposition half, whilst I was perhaps most impressed with Connor Goldson, an English centre half who looked at ease with his job in hand.


The Verdict


Unlike last season, where Rangers went to Eindhoven and snatched a remarkable 1-0 win, I think this year is a bridge too far for this newly built team, who at Ibrox came up against a side better, faster, more equipped to deal with the ball, than they are.


Hat’s off to Mick Beale’s men who went about their business with bolshy determination and gave everything for their team and supporters, it felt however that Peter Bosz’s side could still level up a couple of notches, and for that reason I think they’ll go through.


It’s exciting times for PSV who continue their long unbeaten record and you can see why they don’t lose many matches with the talent they have on show, they’ll be hoping the August window closes without losing too many assets, if so a good European run and a championship challenge could be on the cards, for Rangers, they look like a distant second to Celtic, again.


The Teams


Rangers: Jack Butland, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, John Souttar, Borna Barisic, Ryan Jack (John Lundstram 67), Jose Cifuentes (Kieran Dowell 81), Nicolas Raskin, Todd Cantwell (Sam Lammers 86), Abdallah Sima (Rabbi Matondo 67), Cyriel Dessiers (Danilo 81).


PSV Eindhoven: Walter Benitez, Jordan Teze, Andre Ramalho (Jeroy Schouten 90), Olivier Boscagli (Isaac Babadi 90), Sergino Dest (Shurmandy Sambo 81), Joey Veerman, Ibrahim Sangare, Ismael Saibari (Guus Til 69), Johan Bakayoko, Luuk de Jong, Noa Lang (Yorbe Vertessen 81).


8:00pm Kick Off. Tuesday 22nd August 2023, Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow (att 47,537).

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