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Europa League: Aribo, Bassey, Balogun’s Rangers seek to end 50-year drought

SUPERS Eagles stars Joe Aribo, Calvin Bassey and Leon Balogun will mostly likely play big roles this (Wednesday) night when Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt fight it out for the UEFA Europa League trophy at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium in Seville, Spain.

The Scottish side’s run to their first European final since 2008, when they lost the UEFA Cup final to Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg, has been with immense help from the Nigerian trio.

While Aribo and Bassey have been regular starters for the Glasgow club, Balogun has made key contributions too by coming off the bench when it is time to preserve an advantage.

Midfielder Aribo has played 16 times and made three assists this season in the Europa League starting from the qualifying stages, while Bassey has made 14 appearances in the competition.

On his part, centre-back Balogun has played 10 Europa League games and scored twice.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst will be banking on these Nigerian stars as the 2021 Scottish Premiership champions go in search of their first European trophy since 1972.

That time 50 years ago, they defeated Dinamo Moscow 3-2 in the Cup Winners Cup final at Camp Nou in Barcelona to win their only major European trophy till date.

Now they are back in Spain and van Bronckhorst, who used to play for Barcelona, has confidence in his side.

“I’m very proud of the achievement. Not many players can play European finals,” the Dutchman said.

“It’s not for every player. Once we’re there, we need to do everything to win it. It’s remarkable.”

Rangers defender James Tavernier echoed his boss, insisting that he and his teammates do not lack self-belief.

“We have got to fancy ourselves. We are in the final of the Europa League,” he told UEFA com.

“You reach the final for a reason, so we’re upbeat; we are full of confidence and we are going to give it absolutely everything we’ve got.”

Rangers are up against a Frankfurt side who are the only unbeaten team in the Europa League this season.

The German club, who are currently 11th in the Bundesliga, are also looking to end a decades-old European trophy drought.

Their last triumph was 40 years ago when they won the Cup Winners Cup, but their head coach Oliver Glasner is looking forward to the Europa League final.

“Slowly something is falling into place. What the team did [in the semifinal] was unbelievable,” he said.

“We said to the players: ‘I don’t know if you are the best players or if we are the best coaches. But we are exceptional as a group and together we can be the best.’ It’s the best thing when you can make so many people happy. For us, it’s all about this final.”

Frankfurt forward Ansgar Knauff added: “The last six months have been a dream come true. So many emotions, such a great run into the European final and the matches I have experienced here. Just incredible.”

Having beaten German sides Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig on their way to the final, Rangers would feel they know how to handle Bundesliga sides, and believe it is time to avenge their 1960 European Cup semi-final defeat to Frankfurt.

The German side also faced tough opponents on the road to the final, seeing off both West Ham and Spanish giants Barcelona.

Expert predictions

James Thorogood, Frankfurt reporter

The only side to have gone the entire Europa League campaign unbeaten, Eintracht Frankfurt are riding another wave of fan-driven euphoria.

Alex O’Henley, Rangers reporter

On the 50th anniversary of their team’s European Cup Winners’ Cup success in Barcelona, Rangers supporters are understandably thinking their name might be on the cup this year. Having already taken care of two higher ranked Bundesliga sides in Dortmund and Leipzig, there is cautious optimism among players and fans that Spain could once again be the setting for a major European success.

POSSIBLE LINE-UPS

Frankfurt: Trapp; Touré, Tuta, N’Dicka; Knauff, Sow, Rode, Kostic; Hauge, Kamada, Borré

Rangers: McGregor; Goldson, Lundstram, Bassey; Tavernier, Jack, Kamara, Barišic; Wright, Aribo, Kent.

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