RANGERS will move into new territory in tonight when they play Hungarian champions Ferencvaros in the Champions League. The game is being played in the Greek city of Katerini and is part of a four team first round mini-tournament which also involves hosts PAOK and Swansea City.
It is Rangers first match of any sort in European competition and follows their inaugural SWPL 1 title win last season. Malky Thomson's side won 25 of their league games and drew the other two, to finish seven points clear of Glasgow City, who are also in Champions League action tonight.
Such a procession would have been unimaginable three years ago, but the success of the 2019 World Cup in France persuaded the Rangers board to invest significantly in their women's team for the first time. There was a wholesale change of players at the end of the year, with the new squad being put on professional contracts.
Rangers, who have yet to win either of the two domestic knock-out competitions, will be aiming to reach the lucrative Champions League group stage at their first attempt. To do that they will need to beat Ferencvaros and then, on Sunday, the winner of today's other tie between PAOK and Swansea.
The mini-tournament winner then goes through to a home and away second round, with the successful club qualifying for the six-game group stage.
“The biggest challenge is we're new to it,” head coach Thomson admitted at yesterday's press conference. “It would be monumental if we managed to progress and we're confident in our ability.”
Ferencvaros have played in the Champions League before, but despite that experience Rangers go into the game as favourites. The Hungarian national side, including a number of Ferencvaros players, are 21 places below Scotland in the FIFA rankings and failed to beat Pedro Martinez Losa's side in three recent meetings, including two World Cup qualifyiers.
Unusually for football at this level, Ferencvaros have a player-manager in forward Fanni Vago. She is a prolific scorer who got the Hungary goal in a 2-1 defeat to Scotland last October.
Rangers, who have scored 22 goals without reply in their opening two league games, have a much more cosmopolitan squad, including midfielder Jenny Dannielsson who came on as a substitute in all three of Finland's games at the Euros in England.
She has played most of her football in Sweden and joined Rangers from AIK once she had recovered from Covid after the tournament. The 27-year-old is vastly experienced, but unlike some of her new team-mates has not played in Champions League football at any of her previous clubs.
“This is the only competition I've never played in before,” Danielsson confirmed. “It's a very big challenge for me and for the whole team. The opponent is unfamiliar although we do know a little bit about them.
“Everyone is very comfortable and excited with the challenge we have. It feels like we're ready to take on a new era.
“Rangers play a different type of football from what I was used to in Sweden. It gives me more variation and I need to learn and adapt to this way of playing.”
Danielsson's club have the biggest budget in Scotland and the 30-times capped player says her move is a step up from what she experienced at AIK.
“Every player is professional here and the facilities are amazing,” she said. “The coaching and backroom staff are working 24/7 trying to help us and make us better.
“The ambition and the will to win everything is something I've never experienced before.”