Conquerors of Dortmund in the last round, Scottish champions Rangers host their Serbian counterparts Crvena zvezda in the first leg of the round of 16.
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Impressive conquerors of Borussia Dortmund in the knockout round play-offs, Scottish champions Rangers host their Serbian counterparts Crvena zvezda in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League round of 16, the stage of the competition from which the Glasgow side have been eliminated in each of the past two seasons.
• Rangers clinched a UEFA Europa League knockout phase berth with a game to spare, finishing second to Lyon in Group A with eight points, before overcoming Dortmund 6-4 on aggregate (4-2 a, 2-2 h) with captain James Tavernier scoring three of their goals over the tie.
• Crvena zvezda topped Group F in the autumn ahead of Braga, Midtjylland and Ludogorets, albeit as the lowest-scoring section winners with just six goals – the same number as Rangers managed in Group A. It was the first time the Belgrade side had ever finished top of a European group.
• Rangers and Crvena zvezda have been paired three times previously in UEFA competition, the Scottish side having the edge with two aggregate victories to one.
• A play-off in London was required to separate the teams when they first met, in the 1964/65 European Cup preliminary round, after Rangers had won the first leg 3-1 in Glasgow and Crvena zvezda prevailed 4-2 in the Belgrade return. With no away goals rule in place, the Scottish side went through after winning the extra game 3-1 at Arsenal's Highbury.
• The teams did not meet again until the second round of Crvena zvezda's triumphant 1990/91 European Cup campaign, Darko Pančev scoring in both legs as the Belgrade side followed up a 3-0 home win with a 1-1 draw in Glasgow.
• The most recent tie belonged to Rangers, however, as they edged Crvena zvezda out of the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, Nacho Novo's 90th-minute strike in the first leg at Ibrox proving to be the only goal of the tie. Walter Smith's side would end that European campaign as UEFA Cup runners-up.
• Rangers' only other UEFA contest against Serbian opposition was a 2006/07 UEFA Cup group game at home to Partizan, which they won 1-0 with an Alan Hutton goal to reach the knockout phase. They are therefore unbeaten at home by Serbian visitors (W3 D1).
• Crvena zvezda's all-time record in two-legged ties against Scottish opposition is W2 L3. Beaten by Celtic in the second round of the 1968/69 European Cup (1-5 a, 1-1 h), they defeated Hearts on away goals in the 1996/97 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup qualifying round (0-0 h, 1-1 a). They have yet to win in five visits to Scotland (D2 L3).
• Undefeated champions of Scotland in 2020/21 as they claimed a record-extending 55th domestic league title, Rangers also played 13 matches in the UEFA Europa League, progressing from the second qualifying round to the round of 16, where their run was ended by Slavia Praha (1-1 a, 0-2 h).
• Rangers returned to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in a decade this term, but they lost both third qualifying round legs 2-1 to Malmö and therefore transferred to the UEFA Europa League play-offs, where they edged Alashkert to reach the group stage for the fourth successive season. Although they lost their opening two group games – against Lyon (0-2 h) and Sparta (0-1 a) – they remained unbeaten thereafter, taking four points off Brøndby (2-0 h, 1-1 a) and clinching second place with a 2-0 victory over Sparta at Ibrox on Matchday 5 in their first match under new manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who had replaced Steven Gerrard.
• This is Rangers' fourth appearance in the UEFA Europa League round of 16, and their record-equalling third in a row. However, in all three previous campaigns they failed to make it through to the quarter-finals, going out to PSV Eindhoven in 2010/11 (0-0 a, 0-1 h), Bayer Leverkusen in 2019/20 (1-3 h, 0-1 a) and Slavia last season. They have therefore yet to win a match at this stage of the competition, scoring just two goals and losing all three home fixtures.
• The Glasgow giants have lost just five of their last 31 European home matches (W19 D7), although three of those defeats have come in the last seven – against Slavia, Malmö and Lyon. In the UEFA Europa League knockout phase their record at Ibrox is W2 D2 L3, the three eliminations all triggered by those home defeats.
• A fourth successive Serbian SuperLiga title for Crvena zvezda in 2020/21, and second under coach Dejan Stanković, was supplemented by a first victory for nine years in the Serbian Cup. The club's first domestic double since 2006/07 crowned a season in which they also played a dozen games in Europe, reaching the UEFA Europa League round of 32, where they lost out on away goals to AC Milan (2-2 h, 1-1 a).
• This season's bid to return to the UEFA Champions League group stage, where Crvena zvezda competed in 2018/19 and 2019/20, was thwarted by Moldovan champions Sheriff in the third qualifying round after the Belgrade side had earlier eliminated Kairat Almaty. CFR Cluj were then convincingly overcome in the UEFA Europa League play-offs to secure Crvena zvezda's third appearance in the group stage. Having advanced as runners-up in each of their previous two campaigns, in 2017/18 and 2020/21, they clinched first place in Group F on 11 points with a 1-1 draw away to runners-up Braga on Matchday 6.
• This is the Belgrade side's first appearance in the UEFA Europa League round of 16. They were round of 32 losers to CSKA Moskva (0-0 h, 0-1 a) in 2017/18 and to Milan last season. This is the furthest the club has progressed in a UEFA competition for 30 years.
• Crvena zvezda have lost only two of their 11 away fixtures in the UEFA Europa League proper (W3 D6), conceding just six goals in the process. Although they were beaten on the road in both of this season's UEFA Champions League qualifiers, they are undefeated in seven UEFA Europa League away fixtures, including this season's games at CFR (2-1), Ludogorets (1-0), Midtjylland (1-1) and Braga.
UEFA Europa League squad changes
In: Amad Diallo (Manchester United, loan), Aaron Ramsey (Juventus, loan), James Sands (New York City, loan)
Out: Juninho Bacuna (Birmingham City), Ianis Hagi, Filip Helander, Nathan Patterson (Everton)
In: Nemanja Motika (Bayern München II), Ohi Omoijuanfo (Molde), Cristiano Piccini (Valencia)
Out: Miloš Degenek (Columbus Crew), Lois Diony, Marko Lazetić (AC Milan), Njegoš Petrović (Granada)
Links and trivia
• Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who made his 100th appearance in UEFA club competition in the first leg against Dortmund, kept clean sheets in both matches for the Ibrox club when they defeated Crvena zvezda in that 2007/08 UEFA Champions League qualifying tie.
• Crvena zvezda's Austrian international defender Aleksandar Dragović was in the Leverkusen side that knocked Rangers out of the UEFA Europa League two seasons ago, starting the first-leg win at Ibrox and coming off the bench in the return.
• Aleksandar Katai, who converted crucial penalties for Crvena zvezda in both group games against Braga, also found the net for Serbia against Scotland in the teams' UEFA EURO 2020 play-off penalty shoot-out, which Scotland, featuring Rangers' Ryan Jack, won 5-4 in Belgrade.
• Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield and Crvena zvezda goalkeeper Milan Borjan have both played international football for Canada.
• Opposing managers Van Bronckhorst and Stanković played against each other for the Netherlands and Serbia & Montenegro respectively in a group game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Oranje winning 1-0 in Leipzig. Both players went on to win over 100 caps at senior international level (Van Bronckhorst 106, Stanković 103).
• Rangers are appearing in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 for a third successive season. Only one team, Sevilla (2013/14–2015/16), have previously achieved that hat-trick.
• Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos's goal in the first leg against Dortmund was his 31st in all rounds of the UEFA Europa League, qualifying included, putting him joint third in the all-time scoring list for the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Cup combined – level with Radamel Falcao and Aritz Aduriz and behind only Henrik Larsson (40) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (34).
• Rangers and Crvena zvezda are the only two reigning national champions competing in this season's UEFA Europa League round of 16. The Serbian club are one of three domestic cup winners in the field, along with Barcelona and Braga.
• Crvena zvezda are one of three former European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners involved in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 – together with Barcelona and Porto.
• Serbia has a club in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 for the first time, making it the 23rd nation represented at this stage of the competition.
• Rangers and Crvena zvezda both currently sit second in their domestic leagues to local arch-rivals, the former three points behind Celtic, the latter two in arrears of Partizan.