SEVILLE, Spain (AP) — It is thanks to one of its fullbacks that Rangers arrives at the Europa League final with the competition’s best attack and in good position to end a 50-year drought without a European title.
It was veteran James Tavernier who took over the scoring role for the Scottish club after forward Alfredo Morelos was ruled out for the season in April with an injury sustained with Colombia’s national team.
The 30-year-old Tavernier, a former Newcastle player, has found the net seven times in 13 matches to lead the competition in scoring and help guide Rangers to the final. Four of his goals came from penalty kicks.
“Obviously I’d like to finish this competition as a winner of the cup, picking up the trophy and finishing as the top scorer,” the Rangers captain said. “But my first aim is to try to keep a clean sheet tomorrow when we finish that game. Obviously that will put us in a great position.”
Rangers will try to win its first European title since 1972 in Wednesday’s final against Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville. Frankfurt is looking for its first European trophy in more than 40 years.
The winner will also secure an automatic spot in the group stage of the Champions League next season. Rangers last played in the top European club competition in 2010-11, while Frankfurt hasn’t played in the tournament since losing the European Cup final to Real Madrid in 1960.
Rangers enters the final with the competition’s leading attack with 22 goals, two more than Frankfurt.
Tavernier said he always loved going forward and scoring goals and grew up admiring some offensive-minded Brazilian fullbacks such as Dani Alves, Marcelo and even Cafu, the World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994 and 2002.
Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a fullback himself, and a good one at that, having won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006. He said Tavernier has perfectly embraced the modern role of the position.
“In my time, you could see the change in the different types of fullbacks, more going forward and more supporting the attack than before. It developed even more after I finished my career,” Van Bronckhorst said. “James is one of the fullbacks who has contributed a lot in attack with his assists and of course with his goals as well, so I’m really happy with his performances. To be the top scorer in the Europa League as a fullback is amazing.”
Tavernier has been with Rangers for the past seven years and sees the club ready to finally come through with the European title.
“It’s the best changing room I’ve been in, it’s got a mixture of youth and experience and we are all really close,” Tavernier said. “Come matchday, in any situation, I know the boys will prevail.”
And both in defense and in attack, Tavernier may be key again for his club.
“I’ve just got to make sure I’m the best version of myself tomorrow night and try to lead by example on the pitch and do the best I can,” he said. “Hopefully we can make this incredible journey even more special.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni