Champions League: Union Saint-Gilloise return to Europe tonight after 58 years

Champions League: Union Saint-Gilloise return to Europe tonight after 58 years
Union's head coach Karel Geraerts pictured during a training session of Belgian soccer team Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, Monday 01 August 2022 in Heverlee, ahead of the third round qualification game in the Champions League competition that Union will play tomorrow against Rangers FC. Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

Fifty-eight years after their last appearance and elimination in the first round of the Inter-Cities Cup, Union Saint-Gilloise will return to the European stage on Tuesday and will host Glasgow Rangers for the first leg of the third preliminary round of the Champions League.

As the Joseph Marien Stadium is not approved for Champions League standards, the Unionistes will play their match at the Den Dreef Stadium in Leuven.

Union have not played a European match since October 7, 1964. The last time was a trip to Juventus in the first round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Beaten 0-1 in the first leg, USG lost by the same score in Turin.

After finishing in second place last season, Union Saint-Gilloise qualified for the Champions League preliminary round. They will need to beat Rangers and then another opponent – either PSV Eindhoven or Monaco – if they want to compete in the prestigious Champions League group stages.

Making their long-awaited return this year against Rangers, the finalists of the last Europa League, Karel Geraerts’ players will write a new page in the history of the Saint-Gilles club.

On the pitch, the Scots are favourites, which leaves Union in an underdog role that 'suits them like a glove', as they demonstrated last season.

The match tonight is sold out, and there is a good chance it will be a lively affair, not only on the pitch, but also off it.

Nearly 7,000 Union supporters are expected against nearly 2,000 Rangers fans in a stadium with a maximum capacity of 10,000 seats.

Union's Celtic connection

Many of the songs of Union may well sound familiar for Rangers. The name of Union Saint Gilloise’s hardcore of supporters - The Union Bhoys - is a reference to ‘The Bhoys’, the hardcore contingent of supporters of Scottish football team Celtic FC, Rangers’ big rival.

The friendship between Celtic FC and Union can also be explained by the strong anti-racist and anti-fascist values ​​of both clubs.

“Significantly more police services will be deployed than in a normal match,” says Commissioner Marc Vranckx of the Leuven police told Bruzz.

In terms of team selection, Union manager Karel Geraerts will have to do without his two attackers Dennis Eckert-Ayensa and Gustaf Nilsson and his defender Ismaël Kandouss.

Injured during preparation, full-back Koki Machida has returned to training and is in the selection, as is Dutch midfielder Oussama El Azzouzi, the Union’s latest recruit.

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