Union Saint-Gilloise’s big return to European football after 58 years was a night to remember for the Brussels team.
Union brushed aside Glasgow Rangers 2-0 at the Den Dreef Power Stadium in Leuven in the first leg of the third preliminary round of the Champions League. Goals by Teuma and Vanzier in both halves have given Union a comfortable two-goal cushion for the second leg in Glasgow.
If they go through, they will have a chance to play PSV Eindhoven or Monaco in the next round for a chance to qualify for the group stages. If they get knocked out, they will compete in the Europa League.
A lively affair
The game itself proved, as anticipated, to be a lively affair. Playing at a neutral ground – as the Joseph Marien Stadium in Duden Park did not meet Champions League standards – Union had a nervous start, seemingly displaced from their usual home turf.
Rangers had most of the possession and early chances, as Union did not press hard enough and nearly paid the price. In the first tentative ten minutes, Rangers had three chances which came to nothing before Union finally got into gear and started moving bodies forward.
The Den Draff stadium erupted with joy when Union Captain Teuma hit the back of the net in the 27th with a strike from the centre of the penalty box, having been set up by Nieuwkoop and Lazare. The goal finished off any momentum Rangers had started with, and bar a couple of chances, Union took control and saw off any offensives by Rangers.
Union pushed forward for a second and were rewarded when a chance saw Adringa, Teuma and Vanzier all take shots inside the box that were repelled by the Rangers keeper and defence. However, VAR intervened after the play to award a penalty for Union in the 74th minute, ruling that one of the shots had been blocked by a Rangers handball in the box.
Vanzier sent the keeper the wrong way and sent the stadium into a frenzy for 2-0.
Union held on and saw off last year's Europa League finalists in an overall convincing display.
"Job is only half done"
“We could have lost by more,” stated Rangers Manager Giovanni Van Bronckhorst after the game, with the Scottish side having it all to do in the second leg in Glasgow.
Union manager Karel Geraerts said he was proud of his team. “We had a good match, we were organised and it showed in the outcome of the game. I am very happy with the victory because we played against a great team which played in the Europa League final last season.”
He paid tribute to the Union Saint-Gilloise fans who he says played an important role in the game, stating that it had been like playing at their regular Joseph Marien stadium.
Despite the great result, Geraerts ensured to keep things grounded. “The job is only half done. It's a nice result but I told my players that everything will be decided next week”
“A great challenge awaits us in Glasgow in front of 50,000 people and a fantastic atmosphere,” Geraerts concluded.
It was still nonetheless a historic night for Union as they returned to European football for the first time in 58 years – chants of ‘Ici c’est Saint-Gilles’ and ‘Bruxelles, ma ville’ rang out into the night on the streets of Leuven as fans made their way home.
Whatever the result at Ibrox, it will be remembered as another historic chapter in the meteoric rise of the small club from Brussels. It will all be decided on the second leg, which will be played next week on Tuesday 9 August.