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Pedro Caixinha has challenged his Rangers players to be the ones who defy huge Europa League odds this season by going all the way to the group stage.

The Ibrox club will end a six-year absence from continental competition when they face Progres Niederkorn in Thursday night’s sold-out first qualifying round first leg.

While defeat to the team from Luxembourg would represent a major shock, Rangers will have to overcome far tougher opposition in three subsequent ties to achieve their goal.

Rangers face Progres Niederkorn in Thursday's sold-out first qualifying round first leg

Rangers face Progres Niederkorn in Thursday's sold-out first qualifying round first leg

Rangers face Progres Niederkorn in Thursday’s sold-out first qualifying round first leg

They are among 100 clubs involved at the very start of the competition, with recent precedent suggesting 98 or 99 of those will likely fall before the groups are drawn.

Caixinha, however, draws inspiration from the handful of teams – last season it was Maccabi Tel Aviv and Andy Halliday’s new Azerbaijani loan club Gabala – to have survived the arduous journey since the format was introduced.

‘We have to come through eight matches, four qualifying ties,’ said the Portuguese, who confirmed Barrie McKay would not be involved on Thursday evening after being sent to train with the Under-20s.

‘It’s a challenge. It’s really a challenge. We know it is difficult.

‘We tried to make a small study from the last five seasons and at least one club, some seasons two clubs, went from the first qualifiers to the group stage.

 Pedro Caixinha has challenged his players to defy odds by going all the way to the group stage

 Pedro Caixinha has challenged his players to defy odds by going all the way to the group stage

 Pedro Caixinha has challenged his players to defy odds by going all the way to the group stage

‘Also, Monaco with the Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim – from the second qualifying round of the Champions League he arrived in the semi-finals. That’s an achievement.

‘But our focus is tie by tie, qualifier by qualifier. The target is to get to the group stage and after that we see what happens.

‘If we think that this massive club needs to be there, we are trying to do everything to put things on the normal track.’

Caixinha insists he also wants success to help raise the standing of Scottish football. Having been ranked as the 10th best nation in Europe a decade ago, Scotland has slumped to 25th in the co-efficient standings.

‘We are not only defending Rangers, we are defending Rangers and Scotland,’ said Caixinha.

Rangers will end a six-year absence from continental competition on Thursday night

Rangers will end a six-year absence from continental competition on Thursday night

Rangers will end a six-year absence from continental competition on Thursday night

‘If you see, for example, the poor co-efficient that Scotland has right now, and knowing that you only get 0.25 points for getting through the first qualifier and 0.50 for getting through the second qualifier and so on, you need to add a lot of qualifiers, you need to win a lot of matches, to raise the level.

‘So we are defending Rangers in the first place and by doing that the best possible way we also help the country.’

Asked whether he thought fans of other Scottish teams would wish Rangers well for the collective good or stick to club loyalties, Caixinha smiled: ‘It’s the same in Portugal or in Mexico, everybody feels like that because the majority of people think about their clubs not about their country.

‘But I do think if you do your best with your club you are also helping your country, football-wise.

‘For example, if the qualifying situation gets better, we don’t go into only two weeks of vacation, we are not going to have only three weeks to prepare a team to compete.

‘So everything gets involved and we always look to the positives while being ambitious.’

 

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