Europa League play-off: Celtic & Rangers face familiar faces

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Galatasaray defeated Rangers 3-2 in 2000Celtic and Rangers have taken different paths to the Europa League play-off round but have the chance on Thursday to give Scotland two group stage representatives for the third season running.Tournament restructuring because of Covid-19 means the circumstances – a one-off tie – are unusual, but both face foes familiar…

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Galatasaray celebrate against Rangers
Galatasaray defeated Rangers 3-2 in 2000

Celtic and Rangers have taken different paths to the Europa League play-off round but have the chance on Thursday to give Scotland two group stage representatives for the third season running.

Tournament restructuring because of Covid-19 means the circumstances – a one-off tie – are unusual, but both face foes familiar for contrasting reasons.

Here, BBC Scotland looks at Rangers’ visitors, Galatasaray, and Celtic’s hosts, Sarajevo.

Turks Galatasaray seeking former glory

Galatasaray are not the force they were the last time they faced Rangers in Europe.

When they defeated the Ibrox side 3-2 at home and drew 0-0 in Glasgow in the group stage of the Champions League in 2000, they were fresh from beating Arsenal to lift the Uefa Cup and overcoming European champions Real Madrid to win the Super Cup.

But last season, the Turks found themselves on the end of a 6-0 thumping against Real – and a 5-0 hammering by Paris St Germain – after reaching the group stage of the Champions League.

The 22-time Turkish champions also finished the Super Lig season in lowly sixth place, meaning there is a bit of pressure on manager Fatih Terim as he enters the fourth year of his fourth spell in charge.

The arrival of Nigeria midfielder Peter Etebo on loan from Stoke City has added to a squad that already included former Liverpool and Fulham winger Ryan Babel, one-time Manchester United and Chelsea loanee Radamel Falcao, and former West Ham United playmaker Sofiane Feghouli.

Former Turkey head coach Terim has tweaked the starting line-up in every game this season and his side trail leaders Fatih Karagumruk on goal difference after two wins – including one at reigning champions Istanbul Basaksehir – and a goalless draw with Fenerbahce.

Nevertheless, it is a satisfying start to the season that has also included convincing wins in Europa League qualifying – 3-1 away to Azerbaijan runners-up Neftci and 2-0 at home to Croatia’s Hajduk Split.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ryan Babel celebrates scoring for Galatasaray against Hajduk Split
Ryan Babel (centre) scored for Galatasaray against Hajduk Split

Mbaye Diagne: The Senegal striker has been preferred to Falcao in Europe this term, despite the 34-year-old Colombian finding the net three times. Diagne, who has returned from a loan spell in Belgium with Club Brugge, responded with a double of his own in the win over Neftci.

Ryan Babel: Another who has returned after a spell away on loan – with first club Ajax. He has been on the bench for league games but started both Europa League qualifiers ahead of fellow 33-year-old Arda Turan, who has returned from Barcelona and misses the Rangers game through illness.

Fatih Ozturk: With Fernando Muslera recovering from a broken leg, Ozturk has been an ever-present after his arrival from Kasimpasa. With the 34-year-old capped 116 times for Uruguay back in training, his lesser known France-born rival is under pressure to impress.

Sarajevo have ‘once in generation chance’

Unlike Rangers and Galatasaray, it is not long since Celtic and Sarajevo met. Almost a year ago, the Glasgow side defeated the Bosnia and Herzegovina champions home and away for a comfortable 5-2 aggregate victory in the Champions League first qualifying round.

This time, they both dropped down to the Europa League, Sarajevo after a 2-1 defeat by Dynamo Brest in Belarus followed a 2-0 win in Wales against Connah’s Quay Nomads.

Since then, they have gone on a five-game winning run that has taken them to the top of their domestic league and culminated in a 2-1 victory at home to Montenegrin champions Buducnost Podgorica in the last round of the Europa League.

The five-time Bosnian champions have have failed to reached any group stage in 17 attempts and have only twice reached the play-offs. However, their home FA postponed their weekend fixture to give Vinko Marinovic’s side the best opportunity of taking what he views as a “once in a generation” chance.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Matthias Fanimo in West Ham United colours
Matthias Fanimo started his career with West Ham United

Benjamin Tatar: The striker equalised in Glasgow last July to give his side a glimmer of hope of an unlikely second-leg comeback. The 26-year-old Bosnian scored twice in Wales in the opening round this season and his goal against Buducnost has taken his tally to nine in 11 games.

Matthias Fanimo: The former England youth international has taken an unusual journey to European football. Having come through the youth ranks with West Ham United, the 26-year-old winger spent time at Bishops Stortford, Eastleigh, Margate and Hornchurch before heading to Slovenia’s second tier with Drava Ptuj. From there, he won a move to Mladost Doboj Kakanj in the Bosnian top flight and has already found the net three times since his summer switch to the nation’s champions.

Vladan Kovacevic: Goalkeepers usually have to wait until their mid-20s until they become a permanent part of their national squad, but 22-year-old Kovacevic has retained his place since being called up for the first time last year.