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The mere mention of Progres Niederkorn is enough to send a shiver down the spine of Rangers fans still haunted by the Europa League shock of two years ago.
The Ibrox club fell to one of their most embarrassing European results with a 2-0 defeat in Luxembourg sealing a 2-1 aggregate exit in the first qualifying round under Pedro Caixinha.
Only four of the 14 players who featured that night remain at Ibrox as the club launch their revenge mission, starting in Thursday’s first leg at home, against the side who finished fourth in Luxembourg’s top flight last season.
Progres have already squeezed past British and Irish sides to set up the Rangers rematch, edging out Cardiff Met University on away goals before a 3-2 aggregate win over Cork City.
With Steven Gerrard at the helm, Rangers progressed to the Europa League group stage last term and have set their sights on emulating that feat.
Progress to a third qualifying-round tie against Danish Superliga runners-up Midtjylland ought to be fairly comfortable – Rangers are huge favourites at 1-10 for a first-leg victory – but previous experience proves taking the minnows from Luxembourg for granted is unwise.
Who are their players to watch?
Mayron de Almeida: The Belgian striker took time to settle after joining from French side Tours in January 2018, netting just once in 15 appearances. But he blossomed last season, ending the campaign as Niederkorn’s top scorer with 13 goals and six assists in 34 appearances. The 23-year-old has carried that form into the Europa League qualifiers so far, contributing three goals in four games.
Sebastien Thill: Niederkorn captain and Luxembourg international who scored the decisive goal in 2017. The left-footed midfielder plays on the right and is adept at cutting infield to link play. Now in his seventh year at the club, the 25-year-old is Niederkorn’s main creative force – his 12 assists in all competitions last season were twice as many as any team-mate. Thill is a first-leg doubt for with a muscle problem and manager Roland Vrabec is desperate for him to be passed fit.
Aldin Skenderovic: Another Luxembourg international, the tenacious defensive midfielder has 10 caps at the age of 22 and will try to stem the supply line to Rangers’ attacking players. Skenderovic – a Luxembourg league and cup double winner with Differdange in 2015 – returned to his homeland this summer to join Progres after a couple of years in Germany’s lower leagues.
What the managers said
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “It is a chance to show how far Rangers have moved on. A lot of people were hurt the last time we played this opposition. I look back at the pictures and read the headlines and articles that were written about our club at that time and it’s now mine, my staff and my players’ opportunity to put a better feeling around the club.”
Progres Niederkorn coach Ronald Vrabec: “We want to be brave. We want to score a goal and play forward, not just defend, and take a good result for the game in Luxembourg. It’s a different Rangers team and we have a different team too. It’s going to be very tough for us to go to the next round, but we will try. It’s a big game for the club and Luxembourg. Everybody will watch it.”