Forget the pain of the past. This time, Seville became the stage for Rangers to experience sheer joy after an extraordinary performance brimming with pride and panache.
Nineteen months on from losing the Europa League final on penalties, the Ibrox outfit simply refused to accept any possibility of not continuing in a competition that has given them so many memories.
Make no mistake, this never-say-die triumph was a result to stand alongside the very best achieved over recent years. It was also the club’s first-ever away victory against Spanish opposition. History replaced heartbreak on their return to the Andalusian capital.
For Philippe Clement, a 13th game unbeaten undoubtedly set a new high point in an emerging tenure. Despite being depleted by injuries and other absences, his side stormed their way into the Europa League last 16 by topping Group C in the most remarkable manner.
Real Betis has been unbeaten all season in the Benito Villamarin all season. No visiting team had even managed to score two goals. Last Saturday, Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw.
Rangers advanced to the knockout stages of the Europa League on Thursday night
The Scottish Premiership side claimed a 3-2 victory away at Real Betis to finish top of Group C
Rangers forward Abdallah Sima scored the first for the away side to put them 1-0 up
Your browser does not support iframes.
The three strikes Rangers produced were all the more admirable for the fact they were twice pegged back during a brain-scrambling first half. Sparta Prague’s cruise past Aris Limassol meant the Ibrox club would drop into the Conference League if they couldn’t find a winner.
Twelve minutes from the end of a truly incredible evening, substitute Kemar Roofe found the net. And delirium descended on all those who had travelled from Glasgow.
Part one of a seismic week has delivered glory for Rangers. If they can follow up by claiming the first trophy of the season in Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final, then Clement really will have lift-off.
Abdallah Sima and Cyriel Dessers produced the opening period goals, only for Juan Miranda and Ayoze Perez to level each time. It was eye-popping stuff.
Rangers needed some big moments from Jack Butland but there were so many huge performances. Collectively, Clement’s team rose to this occasion in emphatic fashion.
The Belgian’s starting line-up contained four players who featured in the Europa League final. Captain James Tavernier was joined by Connor Goldson, Borna Barisic and John Lundstram in a selection very much dictated by those not available.
A personal issue caused Todd Cantwell to remain at home, while Ryan Jack, Nico Raskin, Tom Lawrence and Danilo were all missing through injury.
Resting legs ahead of Hampden was impossible. Simply catching a breath wasn’t much easier during an utterly manic first half.
The chaos began after four minutes. Tavernier couldn’t quite get a hold of a strike from 25 yards – just as news of an early Sparta goal filtered through.
Any wriggle room was vanishing. It was now win or bust. But Rangers accepted the challenge with gusto.
On ten minutes, Tavernier cleverly nodded a clearance from Betis goalkeeper Rui Silva in front of Ross McCausland. The youngster hit go. Surging past two players, he drove into the area before squaring for Dessers.
Juan Miranda levelled the scores not long after, sliding the ball into the bottom right corner to make it 1-1
Despite that Cyriel Dessers would produce a stunning solo run around the Betis defence before striking home past the goalkeeper
The striker couldn’t control while losing his balance, but the ball broke in front of Sima. A crisp low finish did the rest.
High in one corner of the Villamarin, 3,000 travelling fans went nuts. Clement’s men were on top of the group. But their first ascent lasted all of four minutes.
A second Sparta goal confirmed no help would come from elsewhere. Betis realised the peril they were now in and hit back with real menace. For a spell, the Ibrox defence looked bewildered by the attacking invention of their opponents.
The leveller came after a clever lay-off from Borja Iglesias set up Miranda for an expertly angled strike beyond Butland. Jubilant noise filled this vast concrete bowl. And Betis quickly went for more.
An Iglesias shot was blocked by Ben Davies before Butland superbly tipped over Hector Bellerin’s drive. When Andres Guardado then sent a thunderbolt against the underside of the bar, it felt like Rangers went about to crumble.
Not so. On 20 minutes, they were back in front with a brilliant goal from a man who has had very little to boast about since his £4.5 million summer acquisition from Cremonese.
Picked out by Cifuentes, Dessers dropped Marc Roca on his backside with a lovely chop that completely bamboozled the Betis man. The finish went through Silva’s legs before Dessers ran off to take rightful acclaim from those gathered on high.
This time, Rangers’ lead – and no.1 spot in the section – endured for 17 minutes. The hosts had fallen into a bit of a lull before five-time Champions League winner Isco stirred them back into life with some sweet skill on the edge of the penalty area.
A dab to the left found Perez for an exquisite curler perfectly measured an inch inside the far post. With Sparta going three up, Rangers were heading to the Conference League.
Clement made an interval change. Off went Cifuentes, with Dujon Sterling introduced to reprise the midfield role he performed during the second half of Sunday’s Premiership win over Dundee.
Seven minutes after the restart, however, Betis were so nearly in front. Once more, the frame of the goal rescued Rangers as Assane Diao headed against the bar from an Isco corner.
Butland then saved at close range from Roca as the Spaniards appealed for a penalty against Ben Davies on the follow-up. Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic – and VAR – were unmoved. Just as they had been in the first half when the ball deflected onto Connor Goldson’s hand when it was by his side.
Rangers pushed back, with Isco earning a booking for felling Lammers just outside the box. Borna Barisic stepped up but couldn’t clear the wall with a free-kick from a very promising position.
Betis, meanwhile, will not qualify for the play-offs with Sparta Prague claiming victory against Aris Limassol to go second in the group, above the LaLiga outfit by one point
Philippe Clement’s side finished top of their group by a point having claimed three wins, two draws and one loss
Rangers meanwhile will return to Scotland to play against Aberdeen at Ibrox on Sunday
A double substitution followed on 65 minutes. Dessers and McCausland made way for Roofe and Rabbi Matondo. By now, Clement had pretty much played his hand.
Perez then used his to put the ball in the net after another impressive Butland save. An offside flag was initially raised before VAR eventually confirmed handball was the true reason the goal should be disallowed.
Just as it seemed Betis might turn the screw, Rangers roared again. Decisively. The final twist of an extraordinary tale arrived from a Barisic corner.
Davies made first contact, heading downwards for Goldson to gather and deliver a low cross. Matondo couldn’t quite connect properly, but Roofe could. Sliding home from close range, he made the difference.
Added time was a torment. Willian Jose got through for a shot but Butland was there to deny him.