Glasgow Rangers travelled to Belgium for the first leg of their Champions League tie against Union St. Gilloise, but things did not go according to plan as the Gers headed home after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Karel Geraert’s USG.
Both Malik Tillman and James Sands started the game, with the German-born Bayern Munich loanee in the middle of the park, while the NYCFC loanee started on the left side of the defensive line.
The game was contested at Den Dreef in the Flemish city of Leuven, since the host’s Brussels stadium did not come up to UEFA standards. This was a contest that perhaps Rangers may have come into over-confident after brushing aside the likes of Dortmund, Braga, Red Star and Leipzig on their way to last season’s Europa League final.
USG captain, Maltese international Teddy Tuema who struck in the first half and then a dubious penalty converted by Dante Denzier after the intermission that were the Glaswegians undoing.
It was Rangers who got the first real chance of the game when they were awarded a free kick with the ball spotted at the top right of the 18 yard box. Borna Barisic’s shot was a very good one but Anthony Moris’ save was even better. Sands pulled the trigger minutes later but there wasn’t enough on it to trouble the Luxembourg keeper.
The game was reminiscent of old-time soccer, with hard tackles flying and a referee who kept his cards in his pocket throughout most of the competition. And the chances came from both ends.
In the 27th minute, the deadlock was finally broken after the Rangers’ defense was still reeling from a bout of USG passes in their box and a Jean Amani shot that for some reason wouldn’t cross the line. Bart Bieuwkoop picked out Tuema, who put his foot through it from 15 yards out, beating a flying Jonathan McLaughlin for the 1-0 lead.
Just past the half-hour mark Tillman played a sweet through ball into the box for Antonio Colak, but the Croatian attacker just couldn’t get the touch that would have tied the game up. Sands got involved five minutes later but in his case it was nothing positive. He brought down Jean Amani, thus forcing the Bosnian referee to dig his yellow card out of his pocket.
The second half picked up where the first half left off. Union was often on the front foot and half the Rangers players were having sub-par performances. Post-game, Rangers’ coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst said as much.
“We didn’t reach the levels we needed to compete and it was the most disappointing for me,” the Dutchman told the press, “and that has to change for next week because we lost but we have the possibility to turn it around next week.”
Sands was a lucky boy just minutes after the intermission when he lost the ball to Dante Vanzier and attempted to correct his mistake with a hard tackle that had the crowd gasping. Fortunately the referee didn’t reach for the dreaded second yellow card which would have given USG a numerical advantage on the field.
Deep into the second half the Unionists should have doubled their lead when Rangers’ yet again were guilty of mediocre defending. With three chances in the space of 30 seconds deep inside the box, only fine goalkeeping kept the ball out, until the fourth try was blasted into the cheap seats.
A minute later the VAR was called into action. Connor Goldson was penalized for a handball that he knew nothing about. A shot ricocheted off Sands onto the Englishman’s arm from close range. The Bosnian ref was called to the monitor and felt that it merited a penalty and a yellow card.
Venzier converted from the spot to give the Belgians the 2-0 lead.
This penalty that never should have been deflated the Glaswegians who could not manage to get back into the game. It was actually the hosts who could have made it 3-0 when Vanzier ran half the length of the field with the ball at his feet, out-pacing a pair of chasing defenders. His shot simply wasn’t good enough and McLaughlin knocked it out of harm’s way.
No Rangers’ players showed up in the mixed zone after the game to talk to the press, making it more of a dead zone, but van Bronckhorst did answer questions and summarized the game and the task ahead next week.
“First of all, the performances need to change from what we saw today. We didn’t reach our level and that’s why we lost the game today,” he said. “So that’s my biggest task for next week; to make sure we have better performance than what we showed today.”
Rangers will look to overturn the two goal deficit in Scotland next week when the Belgians enter the cauldron known as Ibrox.
The Rangers coach also commented on his American loanee Tillman following the game, outlining his hopes for the new arrival.