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The Rangers scored twice in the final seven minutes to salvage a 4-3 victory in Thursday’s thrilling Europa League round of 16 tie with Royal Antwerp.
Gers, who advanced to the group stage as one of six undefeated teams, survived a scare at Bosuilstadion in the first leg to take a huge lead in the second leg in Glasgow.
Felipe Avenatti’s header and a controversial Lior Refaelov penalty late in the first half followed Joe Aribo’s first goal for the visitors, before Borna Barisic leveled from the spot just before the hour.
Antwerp regained their lead with a Martin Hongla goal to put Rangers, who lost influential captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe to injuries in the first half, on the brink of a first loss 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 – The Rangers have only lost one of their last 40 games in all competitions, and 33 of them ended in wins (D6). High. pic.twitter.com/2a6ry6EgDQ
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 18, 2021
Alireza Beiranvand’s howl had given the Rangers their first goal, the Antwerp goalkeeper spilling the ball for Aribo to shoot home after Alfredo Morelos hit him on his way.
The hosts tied with their first goal attempt as Avenatti walked away from the Barisic marker to deliver a sublime header on Allan McGregor from 15 yards.
With that goal set up, Refaelov won the penalty he converted, even though there seemed to be minimal contact from Steven Davis inside the box.
The Rangers had their own penalty seven minutes into the second half when the VAR ruled that Ritchie De Laet had pulled Morelos’s jersey inside the area, allowing Barisic to step up and convert his historic appearance.
De Laet blocked Aribo’s shot down the line and the tie then turned in Antwerp’s favor, Hongla found the back of the net via a long-range shot that deflected from Connor Goldson to beat McGregor.
There was still time for another turn when Kent pushed his way through and hit a shot that passed his substitute teammate Ortwin De Wolf, who had replaced the injured Beiranvand in goal.
De Wolf and McGregor produced excellent saves in the space of 18 seconds, while Ryan Jack stopped a shot on the line, but a seventh goal came when Barisic converted from 12 yards 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 significant final act of a game that will live on in memory, with both sides set to fight again next week.
What does that mean? Gers offers another European thriller
The Rangers provided great entertainment value in the group stage, especially in their home and away matches with Benfica and the 3-2 win against Standard Liege.
Gerrard’s men also prevailed in this latest fight with the Belgian opposition, even if they conceded more goals than in their previous 11 games combined in all competitions.
Kent revives the Rangers
Kent wasn’t deemed fit enough to start this game, but Roofe’s injury forced Gerrard to turn to Liverpool’s youth product. He certainly garnered attention during his time on the field, with neither player handling more shots (three) and shots on goal (two). It was his goal that brought him to life by his side as well.
A mixed bag for Barisic
Barisic was to blame for Antwerp’s first goal and looked shaky on defense. However, the left-back missed the cracks with his two penalties and has now been directly involved in nine Europa League goals since the start of last season, scoring two and providing seven assists.
59 – A total of 59 goals were scored in the 16 UEFA Europa League qualifiers tonight, the most in a single night of knockout rounds since the competition was rebranded in 2009-10. Tasty. pic.twitter.com/GrpigEWMG6
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 18, 2021
Opta key facts
– This was the highest-scoring European match 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 in all competitions (W33 D6), and that only loss came to 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 Europa League appearance, Lior Refaelov scored and assisted in the same match in the competition for the first time.
– Refaelov’s goal (52:21) was the penultimate in the first half of a match in Europa League history, after Fernando Cavenaghi for APOEL Nicosia against Asteras Tripolis in October 2015 (52:24).
Antwerp will host Sint-Truiden on their return to domestic action on Sunday, while the Rangers will play at home to Dundee United on the same day.