Rangers face Russian side FC Ufa on Thursday in the first-leg of the Europa League play-off round as they bid to reach the Europa League. Here is everything Rangers fans should know about their opponents.
They are a new club
FC Ufa were only formed in 2009 and didn’t play their first competitive game until 2011. It was thought the Bashkortostan region in the country required a football club to represent it with FC Neftyanik Ufa having dissolved in 2006.
It has been a sudden rise to the Russian Premier League with promotion secured to the top tier in their third season. Their first full season as a team saw them finish second in the third tier but due to a team in the second division not getting the required licence Ufa were promoted.
Their second season in the second tier brought about promotion via the play-offs and they have been in the Premier League ever since. Last season’s sixth place finish was the highest in their history. After four games of the current campaign they sit 11th in the 16-team league.
First European campaign
This is Ufa’s first season in European competition meaning Rangers will only be the club’s third ever continental opponents.
They came through on away goals against Slovenia’s NK Domzale in the second qualifying round before defeating Progres Niderkorn, conquerors of Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers last season, 4-3 on aggregate thanks to a late goal in the second-leg.
They had a bit of luck in actually qualifying for the Europa League however. Their sixth place finish wouldn’t have been enough to secure qualification. The place was due to go to Russian Cup winners FC Tosno who defeated Avangard Kursk in a surprise final match-up. However the cup winners had not applied for a Uefa license in time. Tosno’s place therefore went to Ufa.
Keep an eye on Sly
The wonderfully named Sly, or Sylvester Igboun, will be the player Ufa will look to to fire them into the group stages. The Nigerian international top scored with seven league goals last season for the club. A modest return but understandable when you consider only relegated SKA-Khabarovsk recorded fewer shots than Ufa in the league.
The 27-year-old is the fulcrum of the attack doing a bit of everything. Last season he recorded the most shots, dribbles, touches in the box, aerial duels and key passes for the team in league competition.
Under the watch of Sergei Tomarov, who has filled numerous roles at the club and took over from Russian legend Sergei Semak in the summer, Ufa set-up in a 5-3-2 system. They are stuffy, well organised and pose a threat on the counter-attack.
Their attacking threat comes from the aforementioned Igboun and the full-backs. Last season they recorded the third most crosses in the league.
However, if they are to overcome Steven Gerrard’s men it will be largely down to their defensive play, having conceded 55 goals in 60 games over the previous two seasons. Their central defensive trio and goalkeeper provide a solid and reliable base in which to build from.
The club’s first manager was none other than former Rangers winger Andrei Kanchelskis.