For the first time in 15 years, the two members of the Old Firm will be in the Champions League group stage, as Rangers ended a 12-year exile via a famous victory in another glorious European evening.
It was Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side who kept their cool against that coached by close friend Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Antonio Colak’s goal came as PSV, frustrated by their dominance of shots and possession not resulting in a first game, spat an error. The exceptional Malik Tillman forced the error that saw Rangers join Celtic in Thursday’s draw.
After last season’s run to the Europa League final, the shrewd Rangers’ aptitude for big European nights was revealed to inexperienced and hot-headed opponents, who lost much of their threat once their main striker, Luuk de Jong, was forced to pick up an injury. Rangers seized their moment, before digging fiercely for the win.
PSV had been granted a weekend by the Dutch Football Association to ease their burden. Qualification for the group stages would be good for the Dutch game as a whole, a levity not given to Rangers by the SFA.
Instead, the weekend’s draw with Hibernian, a red card handed to Alfredo Morelos, cast a shadow, with Van Bronckhorst deeming the striker “not ready to play” any role. The onus to score would fall on Colak, whose goals for Malmö knocked Rangers out of this competition last season.
To follow last week’s high-quality draw at Ibrox, Rangers ran a gauntlet of teeming PSV fans on their team bus on the way to the Philips Stadium. A delayed start was requested after scenes Van Bronckhorst called “the worst I’ve seen as a player or manager”. But with a change Steven Davis dropped for the greater energy of Glen Kamara, Rangers started at 9pm local time against unchanged PSV amid 30-degree temperatures.
PSV started with intention and possession dominance, Manchester United target Cody Gakpo reported, cutting for the opening shot, easily saved by Jon McLaughlin. Ryan Kent in turn came out from the left flank for Rangers’ opening effort. This posed no problem for Walter Benítez, the PSV goalkeeper having released a snap in the first leg.
Kent’s cross handed Colak the striker’s first goal, the ball hastily snuffed out by PSV defenders as Rangers found a head of steam. John Lundstram should have done much better than smash when Malik Tillman’s layoff completed a smooth passing streak, but Gakpo cut his shot when De Jong’s holdup play made room in the box opposition reminded the danger of the home team.
De Jong narrowly failed to hit a Jordan Teze cross before Ibrahim Sangaré swung in from a corner as PSV created a myriad of openings towards the end of the first half. Only James Sands’ heel deflected Ismael Saibari’s shot away from McLaughlin, the keeper shortly after saving De Jong as Rangers weathered the storm before the break. For PSV’s last chance of the half, Gakpo belied his growing reputation by digging in the bar as he held off Sands with McLaughlin already engaged.
Halftime saw De Jong, his shin tied in ice on the bench, taken out. The captain’s physical presence would be missed as a high volume of PSV crosses rained down on the Rangers box.
Yet it was Tom Lawrence who went the closest yet, rattling off the angle of the post and crossbar in the 57th minute as Rangers finally gained territory by pressing PSV to concede possession. Colak got another glimpse of the goal when Kent, fighting back, smuggled the ball into the Croat’s way.
And by such a route, seizing the discomfort of the PSV defenders in possession, the Rangers goal came. A pressurized Armando Obispo caused problems for Benítez, and the pass from the goalkeeper sold out André Ramalho. In volley Tillman, simultaneously alert and cool as he prepared Colak to pass into an empty net.
Tillman’s drive from the edge of the area nearly doubled Rangers’ advantage, with Benítez only claiming the ball on the second attempt as Van Bronckhorst brought new legs to Scott Arfield and Scott Wright.
Philipp Max fired a wide shot and the increasingly disappointing Gakpo lost a one-on-one with McLaughlin as PSV pushed for an equaliser, but brave Rangers showed their expertise in running time on such occasions. Meanwhile, PSV lost their cool and composure. After so much time, the club having gone through so many twists and turns, the promised land, a place among the European elite, is finally that of Rangers.
Colak sinks PSV Eindhoven to put Rangers in the Champions League