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Europa League: Could European glory for Rangers be the perfect Aribo sign off?

3:39 AM MYT 28/04/2022
Joe Aribo of Nigeria and Rangers.
The sleek operator may be on his way out of Ibrox but he has success in Europe’s secondary club competition in his sights

It has not been a smooth journey to this point for Joe Aribo and Rangers who have had to overcome hurdles en route to becoming the first Scottish club to reach the semi-finals in the Europa League era.

A late bloomer, Aribo did not get into an academy just before his 19th birthday but was given a chance by Charlton Athletic. His accelerated progress since has taken him to one of Scottish football’s big two, who are two games away from their biggest European night since 2008 when they competed with Zenit Saint Petersburg in the UEFA Cup decider.

Despite a managerial change in mid-season, with Giovanni van Bronckhorst replacing Steven Gerrard who moved to Aston Villa, the defending Scottish champions have soldiered on in Europe.

Notably eliminating Borussia Dortmund in the knockout round playoffs and a strong showing at Ibrox to overturn a first-leg reverse against Sporting Braga in the quarter-finals have been instrumental in bringing the Scottish giants to this stage.

Aribo has notched three of his Europa League assists in the aforementioned games, with the last eight turnaround arguably his finest performance this season.

The Super Eagle assisted two of Rangers’ goals in the 3-1 success on home turf — setting up James Tavernier after two minutes and teeing up Kemar Roofe in extra time — to secure a deserved success for Van Bronckhorst’s men.

Aside from the assists was the Nigerian’s involvement at the backend of moves, evidenced by a staggering 11 shot-creating actions. No player on either side had more and his volume of SCAs on the night was more than the entire Braga side (eight) managed in Glasgow.

The 25-year-old, though, believes it was that win over Dortmund in the play-off round that fed this side’s belief.

“The boys were buzzing when we played Dortmund because it’s such a big club,” remarked Aribo before the first leg against RB Leipzig. “When we won that, it was like: ‘OK, we can keep going here; the favourites have been knocked out, so we can keep pushing’. And that’s what we’ve done.

“We can win playing against anyone. If we stick to our task then we can get the win. Dortmund and Leipzig being in the same league show that we can do this.”

Beaten finalists 14 years ago, the ‘Gers are on a mission to make it to this year’s final in Seville, their first in Europe since the competition’s revamping. The precedent of Scottish clubs claiming victories in their last three European semi-finals bodes well, with Rangers’ success over Fiorentina in the Uefa Cup semis in 2008 the last in that trio of wins.

Having been the first Scottish side to claim a win in Germany in 24 years, do not put it past Aribo and his teammates to eliminate another favourite in Leipzig who, like Dortmund, are effectively a Champions League quality club who dropped into this year’s Europa League for varying reasons.

With several reports linking the Nigerian with a Premier League move with former manager Gerrard’s Villa, Leicester City and Crystal Palace all reported to be interested in the smooth midfield operator, European success — Rangers’ first since a Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1972 — will be an amazing way to sign off on what has been a fulfilling three years with the ‘Gers.

Said Benrahma’s West Ham United are the other semi-finalists looking to make it to Seville, but the Hammers have to outdo an Eintracht Frankfurt side still buzzing after their giant-killing of Barcelona in the last round.

Benrahma’s influence has waned considerably in the competition since a brace at Genk in the group stage, perhaps an upshot of only two starts in the six games David Moyes’ side have played since.

Still, the Algerian poses the quality to hurt any opposition given the chance and it should be noted he remains West Ham’s joint-top scorer heading into Thursday’s game whilst sitting joint-second for total goal contributions.

The competition debutants are living the dream and while they may have desired a Barcelona semi-final for their first European semi-final in 46 years, the challenge posed by Frankfurt will suffice for the East London outfit.

“We're hugely excited by it,” Moyes asserted on Wednesday. “If you'd have said to us in May last year “you’re going to be in the semi-finals of the Europa League, with the chance of getting to the final,” I think we’d have all said, “you're joking.”

“We’re in a really good place and I think we’re worthy of it.”

Rangers and West Ham are the remaining British sides left in the competition, and a face-off between the pair remains on the cards in the final. It would not only prevent an all-German decider but see clubs from England and Scotland do battle if they make it through demanding encounters in the last four.

Indeed, Aribo and Benrahma can make it happen.