Antonio Colak lives Champions League dream to keep Rangers' hopes alive against PSV

·4-min read
Antonio Colak
Antonio Colak

THESE are the nights that Antonio Colak could once only have wished for. At Ibrox, the striker was living the dream in the Champions League.

Twelve months ago, Colak knocked Rangers out of this competition with Malmo. Now he has given Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side a shot at glory against PSV Eindhoven.

Occasions such as this have been the stage that Alfredo Morelos has thrived on in recent years, the kind of high-stakes, high-octane fixtures that have brought out the best in himself and his team-mates as Rangers have made their name in Europe. The last week has been different, though.

It is Colak who has been the leading presence from the front, he who has provided the moments to bring Ibrox to its feet and give Rangers hope and belief of achieving the seemingly unlikely.

Time will tell the true significance of Colak’s goal in this tight, tense 2-2 draw. Come the final whistle in the Philips Stadion, it will either be a false dawn or the foundation that Rangers built on in this tie.

It is only a couple of weeks since Colak was branded a ‘waste of space’ by Mark Hateley in the aftermath of the defeat to Union Saint-Gilloise. Since then, though, he has gone about his business in the right manner.

That performance in Belgium was the worst that the Croatian has produced for Van Bronckhorst’s side and Hateley’s criticisms about Colak not demanding the ball were valid. It is fair to say the Ibrox legend knows a thing or two about leading the line and finding the net.

Colak was asked about the friendly fire he received following that 2-0 loss on Wednesday and dismissed it with a smile. He has cut an upbeat, likeable figure during his first weeks at Ibrox and he spoke about his positive outlook, as well as his focus on matters on the field rather than off it, as he again handled himself impressively in front of the cameras.

At 28, he is old enough and wise enough to know that goals are the only way to silence critics and win over doubters. Indeed, goals are the only currency that matters at Rangers.

Three strikes in as many games were the perfect response to those who were unsure what all the fuss was about as Rangers embarked on a prolonged but eventually successful pursuit to bring him from PAOK. At £1.8million, he was not a lavish outlay, but his acquisition must pay off over the campaign as he seeks to provide reliable back-up to Morelos.

The relentless running and the ability to bully defenders, as well as an eye for goal, are key parts of the Morelos identikit. Colak proves an alternative, and that is part of the attraction.

There is a feeling that Rangers would be a better overall side, and carry more threat, if Morelos was the main man in attack. While Colak continues to do his job in this manner, it may take some time for the theory to be put to the test over a prolonged period.

Colak has the instincts of a poacher, a way of sniffing out chances and taking the few that come his way and that talent can prove invaluable over the course of a campaign.

The fitness and sharpness situation regarding Morelos, added to the continued absence of Kemar Roofe, ensured there was always going to be a spotlight on Colak in the first weeks of the campaign. He has delivered.

When Rangers needed a goal, Colak stepped up again. Trailing to Ibrahim Sangaré’s scrambled finish and searching for a way back into the game, it was time for a hero.

The header that Colak scored against Union was about being in the right place at the right time. The strike in the win over Kilmarnock was clinical, while the one he netted at home to St Johnstone was opportunistic.

Here, he showed a cool, calm head. When he did so, everyone around him lost theirs as Ibrox erupted.

The pass from Steven Davis was exquisite as PSV were turned and James Tavernier was released down the right. His cross found Colak and his strike nestled in the corner.

Hit first time, his effort was perfectly placed. For a forward who has had a nomadic career, it must go down as one of his finest moments.

Another almost arrived early in the second half. The angle was against him this time, though, and a strong hand from Walter Benitez was enough to block a low shot across target.

As Rangers lost their way, Colak became increasingly isolated. He would hustle PSV when he had the chance, but those moments were scarce before the momentum shifted and a Benitez blunder gifted Lawrence Rangers’ second goal.

The equaliser from Armando Obispo denied Van Bronckhorst’s side a famous win. A tie that was impossible predict remains in the balance and there is nothing to separate these two heading to Holland.

Rangers will need another famous European performance. It could well be Colak that provides the crowning moment with the group stages now within sight.