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There were times when it felt as if Kemar Roofe might never claim his goal. Scorer of a hat-trick against St Mirren on Sunday the Jamaican international was enduring a rather different night here.
A headed goal was ruled out after a VAR check in five minutes. He rattled a clear cut chance against the crossbar. A deft finish was ruled out for offside as Rangers pushed for a third goal in normal time.
The missed opportunities proved costly when ten-man Braga dragged the tie into extra-time with a goal from their first corner kick in the 83rd minute.
Forward Kemar Roofe scored the winner in extra-time for Rangers on Thursday night
Cometh the hour cometh the man. Ibrox was a tense and nervous place when Roofe’s 16th goal of the season finally sealed a first Rangers appearance in a European semi-final for 14 years.
With the clock showing 101 minutes, the striker thumped a low Joe Aribo cross into the net from close range and a crowd of 48,894 found their voice once more.
To say they relaxed would be stretching a point. Reduced to nine for the second half of extra time when substitute Iuri Medeiros followed Vitor Tormena into an early bath Braga survived two glaring missed chances for Rangers substitute Scott Arfield, but couldn’t force a penalty shoot-out.
The Rangers reward for a night of stubborn, dogged resistence will be a meeting with Bundesliga giants RB Leipzig in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Kemar Roofe turned in Joe Aribo’s cross from close range to finally see off Braga
A Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic is next on Sunday and, while the demands of extra-time will extract some kind of toll, the proximity to a Europa League final in Seville on May 18 must surely feel like a shot in the arm.
In truth it should never have been this nervy. Losing first leg in Portugal Rangers failed to muster a shot on target in a major European game for the first time since November 2009
That changed in a pulsating opening to the game when the Scottish champions scored with their first attempt on goal after 63 seconds. On a night when they bullied and cowed a visibly spooked opponent the game could have been out of sight inside five minutes.
Captain James Tavernier became the club’s third highest scorer of all time in European competition behind Ally McCoist and Alfredo when he scored after 63 seconds.
James Tavernier’s early goal cancelled out the Portuguese side’s first-leg lead
Steven Gerrard was the manager of Rangers when the full-back pairing of Tavernier and Borna Barisic proved key to last season’s title success. The Croatian left-back’s cross was key to the blistering start from Rangers, his cross hooked towards the back post by Joe Aribo – a repeated where Tavernier was in position to ram the ball into the net and wipe out the first leg deficit.
The foundations of Ibrox almost crumbled when Rangers forced the ball into the net again in the fifth minute. A Barisic cross was the catalyst for Roofe to head into the net.
The intervention of VAR had been kind to Rangers in earlier rounds, not so here. Acting on advice in his ear French referee Francois Letexier trotted to the touchline and saw the ball clip the unnatural hand of Barisic in the build-up. The celebrations were cut short.
Braga spent most of the first half at sixes and sevens. Visibly spooked by their surroundings the Portuguese side survived a number of close things, barely mustering an incursion over the halfway line.
Rangers were awarded a penalty and Vitor Tormena was sent off for a foul on Roofe
The Rangers support howled in anguish when a glorious chance for a second was missed after 32 minutes. A tactic of the first half was the timely arrival of Aribo to knock Tavernier corner towards the back post. When Roofe crashed the first of two off the face of the crossbar it felt like a glaring miss. When the striker failed to make contact with another identical move moments later you began to wonder if Rangers might rue their missed chances. So it proved in the end.
The best hope for Braga was a half-time whistle and a chance to regroup. Even so the final act of the first half seemed to remove any lingering hope of survival.
There were 42 minutes on the clock when Calvin Bassey’s raking long ball found Roofe in a conspicuous pocket of space racing towards the Braga goal. Caught wrong side defender Vitor Tormena leaned into the back of the striker with his left arm, shoving him to the ground.
The French referee had no need for a VAR check this time. Pointing to the spot he decided – rightly – that Braga’s number three had made no genuine effort to play the ball. A red card flashed in the air moments before the talisman Tavernier stepped forward to lash the ball straight down the middle into the past Matheus for 2-0.
Captain Tavernier scored his second goal from the penalty spot just before half-time
After 45 minutes of missed chances Rangers were two goals to the good, ahead on aggregate and playing against ten men. They had one foot in the semi-finals.
After winning the first leg Braga had progressed in their previous nine UEFA Cup or Europa League ties. Their only first half shot of any note a wild effort from Andre Horta the striker made way for Francisco Moura at half-time and there looked no realistic prospect of that record holding up here. Not so fast was the cry.
Rangers only had themselves to blame for how edgy victory became. They missed one second half chance after another
Joe Aribo scorned a fine opportunity to finish the contest six minutes into the second half, curling a left foot strike round the post when a pass to Ryan Kent might have been the better option.
And yet, in the face of sloppy defending and rushed, panicked possession a third goal for Rangers looked inevitable.
Connor Goldson almost claimed it when he smashed a John Lundstram cut-back against the outside of the upright. On a night when he could have had another hat-trick to add to St Mirren Roofe thought he had it when he lifted a deft finish into the net from an Aribo through ball. The offside flag was tight, but verified by a check from VAR officials.
In his final contribution of the night Aaron Ramsey bundled an Aribo cross over the line before the assistant’s flag signalled a foul on the keeper. The desperation for a third goal was tangible, the failure to claim it costly when Braga scored with their first corner with seven minutes to play.
David Carmo’s soaring header from a Medeiros corner brought extra-time. In the days of away goals it would have sent Braga through. Mercifully for Kemar Roofe, the goal came eventually. Let the scramble for flights and tickets to Germany begin.
Source: DailyMail Sports