A brace from Alfredo Morelos gave Giovanni van Bronckhorst a debut victory as Rangers manager and sent his side into the Europa League knockout round at the expense of Sparta Prague.
Morelos swept home in the first half to give Rangers control early on, before capitalising on a bizarre mistake by Sparta’s Filip Panak after the break.
The victory, along with Brondby’s defeat by Lyon, means Rangers are guaranteed to finish in second place in Group A courtesy of a superior head-to-head record against Sparta.
The Scottish champions will face one of eight teams dropping out of the Champions League over two legs in February for a place in the last 16 of the Europa League, with their final group game against section winners Lyon on 9 December now effectively meaningless.
Van Bronckhorst was making his first appearance as the new Rangers boss following Steven Gerrard’s departure for Aston Villa and enjoyed watching his side earn a comfortable win.
They took advantage of shambolic defending by their visitors – who had beaten them 1-0 in the reverse fixture in the Czech Republic – as James Tavernier’s straight ball into the channel was latched onto by Ianis Hagi, who stretched to cut back for Morelos to side-foot home.
Joe Aribo hit the bar then missed from close range, and four minutes into the second half, Rangers were gifted the crucial second goal they needed to overturn their head-to-head deficit.
Panak crossed directly for Morelos as Sparta attempted to play out from the back, and the Colombian gleefully headed in to become the fifth-highest scorer in Europa League history.
He was denied a hat-trick by Sparta goalkeeper Dominik Holec, who also denied Ryan Kent. Rangers earned victory despite a late flurry from Sparta when Allan McGregor pulled off a spectacular double save from Ladislav Krejci and Matěj Pulkrab.
Man of the match – Alfredo Morelos
What did we learn?
With just a few days to work with the players since their 3-1 Scottish League Cup semi-final loss at the hands of Hibernian, Van Bronckhorst was never likely to introduce major changes.
However, he did tweak the shape to a 4-2-3-1, with Aribo playing as the central number 10 with Kent on the left and Hagi on the right. The latter pair stretched the play wide, while Aribo had three good chances to score after making good runs from his central position.
The attacking shape allowed Rangers to go more direct and, in doing so, they brutally exposed the gaping space left in the channels by the Sparta defence.
It was a generous offering from the visitors, who pinned Rangers back at times and stopped them playing through the middle. However, it was a great start for Van Bronckhorst, who was thrown into an important game on the back of a difficult result and got the required response quickly.
What they said
Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst on BT Sport: “From the first minute on, we were in the game. We were pressing them with a good rhythm of play and creating chances.
“We created enough chances in the first half to win the game. I was really proud of the guys, they did really well and kept pushing for the win.”
Rangers are away to Livingston for Van Bronckhorst’s first Scottish Premiership game at the helm on Sunday (12:00 GMT).
- Rangers have won two of their last three in Europe (D1), after enjoying just one victory in their previous eight (D2 L5 incl. qualifiers).
- Sparta Prague have lost three consecutive Europa League games (excl. qualifiers) for the first time since September 2016 (also three in total)
- Rangers have scored five goals in their last three European games, one more than they managed in their previous eight (four incl. qualifiers).
- Alfredo Morelos has scored 13 goals in European competition for Rangers (excluding qualifiers), the joint-most by any player in the club’s history, level with Ralph Brand.
- 31BarisicBooked at 57mins
- 10DavisSubstituted forLundstramat 89′minutes
- 7HagiBooked at 45minsSubstituted forPattersonat 66′minutes
- 17AriboSubstituted forArfieldat 81′minutes
- 14KentSubstituted forSakalaat 81′minutes
- 37KrejciBooked at 45mins
- 22HaraslínSubstituted forMoberg-Karlssonat 59′minutes
- 20HlozekSubstituted forPulkrabat 85′minutes
- 9KrejciSubstituted forKarabecat 59′minutes
- 11MinchevSubstituted forDockalat 58′minutes
Match ends, Rangers 2, Sparta Prague 0.
Second Half ends, Rangers 2, Sparta Prague 0.
Substitution, Rangers. John Lundstram replaces Steven Davis.
Hand ball by Adam Karabec (Sparta Prague).
Corner, Sparta Prague. Conceded by James Tavernier.
Attempt missed. David Pavelka (Sparta Prague) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left following a corner.
Attempt saved. Matej Pulkrab (Sparta Prague) header from very close range is saved in the centre of the goal.
Attempt saved. Ladislav Krejci II (Sparta Prague) header from very close range is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Adam Karabec.
Corner, Sparta Prague. Conceded by Nathan Patterson.
Corner, Sparta Prague. Conceded by Steven Davis.
Substitution, Sparta Prague. Matej Pulkrab replaces Adam Hlozek.
Calvin Bassey (Rangers) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Adam Hlozek (Sparta Prague).
Glen Kamara (Rangers) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Tomás Wiesner (Sparta Prague).
Substitution, Rangers. Scott Arfield replaces Joe Aribo.
Substitution, Rangers. Fashion Sakala replaces Ryan Kent.
Offside, Sparta Prague. Tomás Wiesner tries a through ball, but Borek Dockal is caught offside.
Corner, Sparta Prague. Conceded by Borna Barisic.
Attempt missed. Adam Karabec (Sparta Prague) header from the left side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by David Moberg-Karlsson with a cross.