The Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville plays host to the highly-anticipated Europa League final on Wednesday night, as Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers face off for a shot at continental glory.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side got the better of RB Leipzig in their semi-final to book their spot in a historic showpiece event, while their German counterparts dashed the West Ham United dream.
Rangers head into the clash having got the better of Hearts 3-1 in their Scottish Premiership battle at the weekend, while Frankfurt’s final Bundesliga game of the season saw them draw 2-2 with Mainz.
Not a single soul has faced Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League this term and come out on the winning side. Not Real Betis, not West Ham United, and not even Barcelona have been able to match the superiority of Oliver Glasner’s side in the 2021-22 tournament.
After ending the hopes of tournament favourites La Blaugrana, Frankfurt made their trip to the English capital worthwhile by claiming a 2-1 semi-final first-leg success over West Ham before completing a famous European endeavour at the Deutsche Bank Park.
With Aaron Cresswell made to take the walk of shame in the 16th minute and David Moyes soon made to follow suit, Rafael Borre’s third goal of the tournament sealed a 3-1 aggregate success over the Hammers and presented his side with a chance to end a 42-year-long drought in Europe.
In its current format, Frankfurt had only made it as far as the semi-finals in the Europa League before being eliminated by eventual winners Chelsea in 2018-19, but during its UEFA Cup days, Die Adler saw off German counterparts Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1980 final over two legs for their only continental crown to date.
Marching to glory in this season’s tournament – and sealing a spot in the Champions League in the process – would certainly make up for the disappointment of an 11th-placed finish in the Bundesliga, and their domestic season ended with a 2-2 draw versus Mainz 05 at the weekend.
Granted, Glasner did opt to make a wave of early substitutions with the trip to Seville in mind, and Frankfurt have successfully navigated 12 Europa League games without defeat this season en route to their third European final.
Only two sides have ever won the Europa League while remaining unbeaten in the process – Villarreal did so last year following Chelsea’s storming run to the crown three years ago – although Benfica and Inter Milan represent two sides who have finished as runners-up after going without defeat before the final.
It will not come as too much of a surprise to learn that Die Adler have scored in all 12 of their Europa League matches so far this term, and Spanish turf has been rather kind to the German club in recent months – just ask any supporter donning a Barcelona or Betis jersey.
However, Frankfurt ended the Bundesliga season on an eight-game streak without a win in the German top flight – their three wins from their last 13 in all tournaments have each come in the Europa League – and German opposition have proven no match for Rangers already in the 2021-22 edition.
Ibrox was bouncing. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst was bouncing. John Lundstram was too overwhelmed with emotion to join in on the bouncing. Rangers sought to overcome a 1-0 deficit against RB Leipzig in their Europa League semi-final second leg, and they did so in style.
James Tavernier – who else – would bring his side back into the tie with 18 minutes played before Glen Kamara’s pinpoint strike into the bottom corner propelled Rangers into the ascendancy, but Leipzig would not wave the white flag without a fight.
Goalscoring machine Christopher Nkunku brought it back to 2-2 with a delightful volley past Allan McGregor, but with nine minutes to go, Lundstram was on hand to prod home and spark wild celebrations among the home crowd, and arguably the most famous night in the Gers’ history now awaits them.
There could hardly be a better way for Rangers to celebrate their 150-year anniversary than with a second European trophy at their sixth attempt, with four of the Gers’ previous finals on the continent – including the 2007-08 UEFA Cup – all seeing them forced to settle for second after winning the 1971-72 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
The dream of back-to-back Scottish Premiership titles did not materialise for Van Bronckhorst’s side, but Hearts also await them in the final of the Scottish Cup next weekend, and their dress rehearsal for that showpiece event certainly went according to the script as far as the Gers faithful are concerned.
Indeed, Rangers enter their two finals having eased to a 3-1 win over Robbie Neilson’s side at the weekend – doing so with a much-changed XI – and that triumph represents their fourth win on the bounce in all competitions.
Van Bronckhorst has also witnessed his side notch up at least two goals in all of those encounters – but only one clean sheet in their last nine may concern him slightly – and unlike Frankfurt, Rangers have already been condemned to five defeats in the 2021-22 Europa League.
That quintet of losses has not stopped the Rangers juggernaut, though, and the prospect of becoming the first-ever Scottish side to win the Europa League is one that Van Bronckhorst’s history-making side will have no intention of passing up.
Rangers may have lost 10 of their 14 European games on Spanish soil so far, but Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund have both been sent packing by the 55-time Scottish champions in this season’s Europa League, and Frankfurt would do well to ask for some pointers from their Bundesliga neighbours to avoid suffering the same fate on the big occasion.
Eintracht Frankfurt Europa League form:
Eintracht Frankfurt form (all competitions):
Rangers Europa League form:
Rangers form (all competitions):
We say: Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 Rangers
In spite of their spate of disappointing showings in the Bundesliga, Frankfurt have found a consistent formula for success in the Europa League, but the absence of Hinteregger and concerns over Ndicka’s fitness is not music to the ears of the Adler faithful.
Rangers can be far more satisfied with their domestic showings this season, but performances away from Ibrox in the Europa League have been difficult to come by in the knockout rounds, and the extended period of rest may end up working against some of Van Bronckhorst’s crop.
The Gers have done their fans and everyone associated with the club proud by making it to the final, but this may just be a step too far for them, with Frankfurt acclimatised to winning on Spanish turf and boasting the attacking aplomb needed to travel home with the trophy.