Wed, Feb

Europa League: Rangers need a home win over Prague to progress

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We are now at the business end of this season’s Europa League campaign, and after four matches played, Rangers remain competitive. Steven Gerrard’s side prepare for round five at home to Sparta Prague with four points on the board, well off the pace set by current leaders and pool winners in-waiting Lyon. All is not lost in terms of qualification as Gers and Prague are neck and neck entering the home straight.

With two matches remaining, the Ligue 1 side are home and hosed, leaving behind a three-way battle for the runners up slot and a place in the knockout rounds of UEFA’s second string competition. Rangers, Prague and Brondby have a chance to secure second, setting us up for what will be a thrilling climax.

The leading online betting sites offer odds on Rangers to sneak through and secure European football in the new year. There’s also betting on the Rangers vs Sparta Prague match, which will be played in Govan on Thursday 25 November The Teddy Bears have big odds attached to their chances of winning the Europa League outright. Even the dyed in wool Gers fans couldn’t argue against that call, but the support remains optimistic of coming through the group stage as the best of the rest.

Will Steven Gerrard’s men pull off another remarkable feat and progress to the next round for the third season in a row?

Bears bounce back from a bad start

Rangers got off to the worst possible start when losing each of their first two Europa League Group A matches. They were soundly beaten by Lyon on matchday one despite the French side never hitting top gear. Gers had failed to qualify for the Champions League as Scottish Premiership champions, knocked out by Malmo, and that may have been a blessing in disguise. The matches against Malmo and Lyon showed the work Gerrard still has ahead of him and the cash required to bring the team up to that standard.

The second match, away to Sparta Prague, resulted in another defeat, but this one was much tougher to take than the first. Prague was a team that looked there for the taking, even on their own patch, but they were deserved winners of the points. Played without away fans and the home support made up of school kids, it was still a toxic atmosphere. The general feeling amongst the Rangers loyal was the players should have dealt with it better.

The 55-time Scottish champions finally got off the mark in game three at Ibrox when beating Brondby, finally showing what they are capable of. They swept past the Danes in Glasgow but had to settle for a point on the road following a 1-1 finish. Gers had chances to win the game, despite going 1-0 down at the end of the first half, but passed up several good chances to do the double over Brondby and silence what was a hostile home crowd.

All or nothing in game five

It hasn’t been ideal for Rangers fans in the Europa League so far, but the club’s European destiny is in their own hands, and we can’t ask for any more than that. A win over Sparta Prague at Ibrox would be enough to secure the runner-up spot with a game to spare, but there’s a catch. Prague beat Rangers 1-0 on matchday two, so the head to head rules mean Rangers must beat Prague by two or more goals at Ibrox. If they do that, they are through, but if they lose the match, they are out. If the match ends in a draw, then it’ll be settled on game six, but Rangers are away to Lyon while Prague faces bottom club Brondby. The players and coaching staff know exactly where they stand.

The history books show Rangers and Sparta Prague have met three times previously, with Sparta on two wins and Rangers on one. The only other meeting at Ibrox was in the European Cup in 1991 when the Glasgow side won 2-1. Will we see a repeat performance here, or can Rangers go one better? Writing off Sparta is a dangerous game as they won their last match versus the Gers and had no problems beating Celtic in Glasgow recently.