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A look at Rangers’ Champions League opponents Union Saint-Gilloise

Ross Sykes recently joined Union from Accrington (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Ross Sykes recently joined Union from Accrington (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Rangers take on Union Saint-Gilloise in the first leg of the Champions League third qualifying round in Leuven on Tuesday night.

Here, the PA news agency gives the lowdown on a side who took Belgian football by storm last term and are now looking to gatecrash the group stages of Europe’s elite competition.

Form

Union Saint-Gilloise, owned by Brighton supremo Tony Bloom, are coming into the tie on the back of a stunning domestic campaign in which they followed up their promotion from the second tier by finishing top of the Belgian top flight in the regulation season. They fell just short in the end-of-term champions play-offs as Club Brugge claimed the title. Union began the current campaign with a 1-1 draw away to St Truiden before notching a 1-0 home win over Charleroi on Friday night.

Manager

Karel Geraerts won 20 caps as a player for Belgium between 2005 and 2009. The 40-year-old former midfielder spent his entire career in his homeland, predominantly with Club Brugge and Standard Liege before retiring from top-level football in 2016. Geraerts went into coaching and was assistant at Union for two years before stepping up to become a manager for the first time this summer after previous boss Felice Mazzu – who oversaw the club’s fairytale rise – was headhunted to take over from Burnley-bound Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht.

Players

With last season’s 26-goal striker Deniz Undav having joined Brighton, Union’s main threat is 24-year-old Belgian cap Dante Vanzeir, who notched 14 times last term. The loss of Undav and Casper Nielsen, who joined Club Brugge in the summer, has been offset slightly by the arrival of 20-year-old striker Simon Adingra from Brighton. The Ivorian netted on his debut against St Truiden last week. Union have also added centre-back Ross Sykes from Accrington. The 23-year-old Englishman, a threat at set-pieces, scored the winner against Charleroi on Friday.

European pedigree

As a team that won 11 league titles before World War Two, Union were prominent in some of the very first European Cup competitions in the early 1900s, prior to officially-sanctioned UEFA tournaments. They also featured in Europe between 1958 and 1965, most notably when they reached the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 1958–60 edition after beating Roma in the quarter-finals. Union’s current venture into Europe is their first in more than half a century and represents their first tilt at the Champions League.