Borussia Dortmund were the favourites to win the Europa League before this tie with Rangers. By the time it concluded, sadly though that was for neutrals, the German side were eliminated from the competition. For Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who has watched Rangers stutter on the domestic front, this felt a timely success.
Rangers had the aim of not wasting the lead earned by an outstanding display at Signal Iduna Park and duly delivered. Dortmund’s showing amid a raucous atmosphere on Glasgow’s south side was markedly better than in front of their own support but they proved unable to turn the tide. Over 180 minutes, Rangers played the more effective football. Van Bronckhorst and his team will bounce into the last 16, with Marco Rose left to field questions about an embarrassing outcome for Dortmund.
“This is a big moment for us as a club,” said Van Bronckhorst. “Last 16, there are only really tough teams left. We are just happy to be among them.”
High praise of Rangers’ first-leg performance, while valid, required context. Unfortunately for Van Bronckhorst and his players, 90 minutes of the tie remained against a free-scoring side. Dortmund recovered from their home loss to Rangers by trouncing Borussia Mönchengladbach 6-0 at the weekend. Prior to this game, Dortmund had played seven in 2022 that had featured more than 40 goals.
Unsurprisingly, they opened positively. Jude Bellingham bundled the ball against Allan McGregor’s left-hand post from a Julian Brandt corner inside four minutes. Donyell Malen’s snapshot from just outside the area bounced narrowly wide. Rangers had been forced into their defensive third for the majority of the first quarter, adding to the craziness of Brandt’s next moment.
Ryan Kent was facing away from goal and offering no particular threat at all when Brandt dropped a lazy leg into his path. As Kent toppled, a penalty was the straightforward outcome. James Tavernier slotted it home, high beyond the diving Gregor Kobel. Rangers, having been outplayed, now held a three-goal advantage.
Brandt stung McGregor’s palms as Dortmund pursued swift salvation. It arrived after 31 minutes, Bellingham enjoying the break of the ball from Connor Goldson before beating McGregor with a calm finish. Rangers could rue the softness of the goal but parity was valid.
Scott Arfield was denied by Kobel and Alfredo Morelos blasted the rebound against Mats Hummels. Arfield should, in truth, have squared to Kent.
McGregor produced a terrific diving save to deny Malen. Before a pulsating first half closed, Dortmund edged in front on the night. Brandt played a ball into the six-yard area that was flicked beyond McGregor by the impressive Malen. Dortmund’s collective reaction demonstrated their belief that the last 16 was now a wholly legitimate aspiration.
The interval switch to five at the back by Van Bronckhorst was to prove a tactical masterstroke. “We didn’t have the same vibe in the second half,” admitted Bellingham.
Morelos twice came close to extending Rangers’ lead within 10 minutes of the restart. Tavernier prevailed where his teammate could not, with a fierce back-post finish after Hummels swiped at and only partly connected with a Calvin Bassey cross from Rangers’ left. Dreadful defending had been a feature of Dortmund’s play a week earlier. Tavernier had no cause to care; the full-back has scored three goals in two games against one of Europe’s elite teams.
The visitors’ situation was now desperate. Marco Reus stumbled after rounding McGregor, with the experienced forward due credit for not tumbling under an earlier challenge from Leon Balogun that could have resulted in a penalty.
Controversy did follow. Emre Can won a free-kick, via VAR, after appearing to kick the ground before Morelos stole possession just inside the Dortmund half. Rangers had briefly celebrated a third, Morelos having marched down on goal before passing for Kent to tap home. They were denied that lead, which appeared unfair on further viewing.
Dortmund still needed two to force extra time. Their chances of scoring had been reduced by Bellingham’s lack of prominence during the second period. Equally ominous for them was the recurring menace shown by Rangers on the break. There was to be no further scoring; the historic result was greeted by Ibrox euphoria.