Rangers scored twice in the final seven minutes to salvage a 4-3 victory in Thursday’s thrilling Europa League last-32 tie with Royal Antwerp.
The Gers, who progressed through the group stage as one of six unbeaten sides, survived a scare at Bosuilstadion in the first leg to take a big advantage into the return fixture in Glasgow.
Felipe Avenatti’s header and a contentious Lior Refaelov penalty late in the first half followed on from Joe Aribo’s opener for the visitors, before Borna Barisic levelled up from the spot just before the hour.
Antwerp regained their lead through Martin Hongla’s strike to put Rangers, who lost influential captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe to first-half injuries, on the brink of a first defeat in 13 games.
However, substitute Ryan Kent scored a third away goal for the Scottish Premiership leaders and Barisic kept his cool with another penalty to mark his 100th appearance for the club with a double, sealing a remarkable victory in Belgium.
1 – Rangers have only lost one of their last 40 matches across all competitions, with 33 of these ending in victories (D6). Lofty. pic.twitter.com/2a6ry6EgDQ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 18, 2021
Alireza Beiranvand’s howler had gifted Rangers their opener, the Antwerp goalkeeper spilling the ball for Aribo to fire home after Alfredo Morelos knocked it into his path.
The hosts equalised with their first attempt on target, Avenatti getting away from marker Barisic to loop a sublime header over Allan McGregor from 15 yards.
Having set up that goal, Refaelov won the penalty that he converted, despite there appearing to be minimal contact from Steven Davis inside the area.
Rangers had a penalty of their own seven minutes into the second half as VAR adjudged that Ritchie De Laet had pulled Morelos’ shirt inside the box, allowing Barisic to step up and convert on his milestone appearance.
De Laet blocked Aribo’s shot on the line and the tie then swung back in Antwerp’s favour, Hongla finding the back of the net via a long-range shot that deflected off Connor Goldson to beat McGregor.
There was still time for another twist as Kent wriggled through and tucked a shot past fellow substitute Ortwin De Wolf, who had replaced the injured Beiranvand in goal.
De Wolf and McGregor produced superb saves in the space of 18 seconds, while Ryan Jack stopped a shot on the line, but a seventh goal did arrive as Barisic converted from 12 yards out after Abdoulaye Seck was deemed to have deliberately handled the ball, earning himself a red card in the process.
Koji Miyoshi hit the post from the final meaningful act of a game that will long live in the memory, with the two sides set to battle it out again next week.
What does it mean? Gers serve up another Euro thriller
Rangers provided great entertainment value in the group stage, not least in their home and away meetings with Benfica and the 3-2 win against Standard Liege.
Gerrard’s men also prevailed from this latest tussle with Belgian opposition, even if they did concede more goals than in their previous 11 games combined in all competitions.
Kent revives Rangers
Kent was not deemed fit enough to start this game, but Roofe’s injury forced Gerrard to turn to the Liverpool youth product. He certainly caught the eye during his time on the pitch, with no player managing more shots (three) and shots on target (two). It was his goal that sparked his side into life, too.
A mixed bag for Barisic
Barisic was at fault for Antwerp’s opener and looked shaky defensively. However, the left-back papered over the cracks with his two penalties and has now been directly involved in nine Europa League goals since the start of last season – scoring twice while also providing seven assists.
59 – A total of 59 goals were scored across the 16 UEFA Europa League ties this evening, the most in a single evening of knockout round action since the re-brand of the competition in 2009-10. Tasty. pic.twitter.com/GrpigEWMG6
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 18, 2021
Key Opta facts
– This was the highest scoring European game Royal Antwerp have been involved in since September 1994, when they were beaten 5-2 at Newcastle in the UEFA Cup.
– Rangers have only lost one of their last 40 matches across all competitions (W33 D6), with that lone defeat coming against St Mirren in the Scottish League Cup last December.
– Since the start of last season, only Alfredo Morelos (12) has been directly involved in more Europa League goals for Rangers than Borna Barisic.
– In what was his 30th appearance in the Europa League, Lior Refaelov scored and assisted in the same game in the competition for the first time.
– Refaelov’s goal (52:21) was the second-latest in the first half of a game in Europa League history, after Fernando Cavenaghi for APOEL Nicosia versus Asteras Tripolis in October 2015 (52:24).
Antwerp host Sint-Truiden on their return to domestic action on Sunday, while Rangers are at home to Dundee United on the same day.