Giovanni van Bronckhorst insists Europa League finalists Rangers will pay full respect to Belgian “fairytale” side Union Saint-Gilloise in Tuesday’s Champions League third qualifying round first leg.
In their first season in the top flight since 1972, the southern Brussels-based side won the regulation league before finishing runners-up to Club Brugge in the subsequent play-off to decide last term’s national champions.
Union are now bidding to reach the Champions League for the first time in their history and Van Bronckhorst has braced his Gers side for a tough test, even though their opponents are under new management after assistant Karel Geraerts stepped up to take the reins from Felice Mazzu, who was headhunted by Anderlecht.
“I’ve seen Union also last year, it was a fairytale, an amazing year,” said the Rangers boss. “Promoting from the first league into the main league and pushing for the title, it’s an amazing story.
“In the end, Union fell a bit short and Club Brugge were the champions but I think it’s fantastic for them to even push for the title which has put them in the Champions League. I have a lot of respect for the players and the coach.
“Of course the coach moved on and the assistant took over but they have a clear style of play. I know in Europe the name Union will not sound very familiar for most people but if you look at the way they play, I think they deserve to be in contention to go into the Champions League group stage.
“Of course Rangers are more known, we have just been in the Europa League final, but every team in this round wants to go through and play in the group stage of the Champions League.
“We will have to be at the top of our game to overcome this opponent. We have a lot of respect for them and we need to push ourselves and work really hard to win against Union over two games.”
Summer signings Rabbi Matondo and Ridvan Yilmaz are set to be included in the travelling Rangers party and could make their competitive debuts for the club in Belgium.
Van Bronckhorst is comfortable with the fact there is increased expectation on his side on the back of their Europa League exploits last term.
“If you reach the Europa League final, you are seen as a favourite to go into the Champions League group stage,” he said. “It’s a very strong competition already in this round when you see all the teams competing for the last places.
“The pressure is always there. That’s why we are involved in a big club like Rangers. We have the possibility to have a good month in August in Europe and qualify for the group stage, and that’s our aim. That starts tomorrow against Union.”