RANGERS slumped to a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Braga.
The Gers endured a sample of what life will be like without Alfredo Morelos in Portugal on Thursday night.
The Colombian striker’s season looks to be over due to injury, and the Light Blues missed his physical presence against the Portuguese outfit.
Kemar Roofe failed to trouble the Celtic defence at the weekend and he was dropped in favour of the more direct Fashion Sakala.
While his speed caused some early problems for the Braga defence in a way Morelos might not have, the Zambian’s inability to hold the ball up and link play meant he had a largely ineffectual night before being hooked after the hour mark.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst rang in the changes in midfield too after Sunday’s 2-1 Old Firm loss with Joe Aribo and Aaron Ramsey moved to the bench.
That meant started for Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield.
The Gers created the first true opening of the match as John Lundstram headed a half-hearted clearance into the path of Arfield, who lobbed the ball into the path of Ryan Kent but goalkeeper Matheus was alert to block him before the Braga defence recovered to snuff out Sakala’s follow up attempt.
Rangers continued to assert pressure with the trickery and pace of Kent and Sakala in particular causing the home side problems.
Despite the Scottish champions getting an early foothold, it was Braga who would go closest to taking the lead on 25 minutes.
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Moments after Ricardo Horta hit the post, brother Andre Horta had the ball in the net (via a deflection off of James Tavernier).
However it would be chopped off once VAR picked up on a foul committed on Ryan Jack in the build-up.
Far from feeling down in the dumps, the hosts started to assert some dominance in the wake of the disallowed strike and Rangers weren’t inspiring confidence defensively.
Eventually Braga made the breakthrough six minutes before half-time.
Abel Ruiz, who scored against Gers two years ago, picked his spot perfectly after capitalising on slack defending from Leon Balogun on the edge of the penalty area.
Sakala had a chance just before the break but lacked composure and fired over.
With next to no joy in an attacking sense in the opening 15 minutes after the restart, van Bronckhorst threw on Aribo and Roofe in place of Jack and Sakala. Balogun also made way for Borna Barisic as Calvin Bassey moved into the centre of defence to cover for the Nigerian, who was believed to be carrying a knock.
Roofe had a decent chance to make a quick impact on 73 minutes as he lost his marker in the box and connected with Arfield’s cross but he blazed his first-time volley over the bar.
Braga seemed content to hold onto the 1-0 and boss Carlos Carvalhal threw little caution to the wind in the final 15 minutes.
This afforded Rangers more possession but the closest they came was a blocked effort from Bassey at a corner.
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