Sima goal gives Rangers narrow win over Real Betis
Last updated on .From the section European Football
Rangers marked their return to the safe haven of the Europa League with a narrow but impressive victory over Real Betis.
Goalkeeper Jack Butland was on hand to deny Rangers' La Liga opponents as Abde Ezzalzouli's class threatened to dampen the mood in Glasgow in the first half.
At the other end, Tom Lawrence and Borna Barisic both struck the frame of the goal.
In Group C's other fixture, Sparta Prague overcame Aris Limassol 3-2, with Rangers travelling to Cyprus next.
• None 'We've had a few bangs on the head but we deserved win'
• None Everything you need to know about Rangers
Failure in the Champions League play-off against PSV Eindhoven was a sobering experience for the Rangers supporters, but not as much as that jaunt into the big boys' playground was last season.
Zero points were garnered in a group campaign laden with heavy beatings, so a return to Europe's second-tier competition for a team in transition perhaps offered more of an opportunity for Michael Beale and his squad.
There were similar frustrations to those the Ibrox crowd has experienced during their side's sticky start to the campaign, most notably when Rabbi Matondo spurned a glorious chance by slashing the ball straight at Claudio Bravo when through early on.
Sima also flapped at an opportunity from close range which threatened to be an ominous missed opportunity for a team yearning for a big performance to ease the pressure on their manager.
Rangers had to ride their luck and rely on the alertness of Butland to thwart Ezzalzouli twice. The Moroccan also lashed over from the edge of the area, while Butland produced several smart stops as Rangers held on in the closing stages.
But there was a resoluteness to the home display, with the Glasgow side striking during a period of dominance. Lawrence's bending shot scuffed a post, while Barisic arced a dipping free-kick form 20 yards off the crossbar.
But Rangers finally got the goal their pressure deserved on what could have been a flat night against La Liga's 10th placed team.
James Tavernier's corner was nodded back into the box by Sam Lammers, sparking a panic in the Betis defence. Kemar Roofe scuffed a shot at Bravo from point-blank range, only for Sima and Ben Davies to combine to net.
Betis have some fabulous technical footballers. Ezzalzouli, Luis Henrique and, of course, Isco, the much-decorated midfield maestro who played well over 200 games for Real Madrid.
So for Rangers to beat them is a job well done.
What will please Beale is his side's resilience and energy, and refusal to back down. Rangers weren't great in the first half at all, but played with greater quality and intensity after the break and weren't fazed by the quality of their opponents.
They skimmed a post, smacked the crossbar and took their chance when it came. Had Matondo scored, as he should have done after only two minutes, it may have been a much more comfortable night.
A deserved win and just the start to the group that under-pressure manager Beale wanted.
'We've had a few bangs on the head' - reaction
Rangers manager Michael Beale: "First half, we had big moments. We didn't show enough belief with the ball. We spoke about that at half time. That's something that is reoccurring.
"Second half, we were much better everywhere. The goal typified the passion. For everyone us, its a goal off a set-play. For us, it's four contacts. In tight games, those are things we need to do more often.
"For this group, we've had a few bangs on the head. We've heard it loud and clear from the outside. Nothing's done. It's just one performance. There was lots I'm happy with, but lots to improve on."
Real Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini: "I don't really remember chances at goal for Rangers. We have another clear three or four chances that their goalkeeper saved very well.
"I'm happy with the way we played. You must score if you want to win. We didn't score. We lost."
• None Rangers ended a run of six defeats in a row in Europe (excluding qualifiers) and registered a clean sheet for the first time in 13 games, since a 3-0 win over Crvena Zvezda in March 2022.
• None Betis have now lost three in a row in Europe - as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 16 (W9 D4).
• None Rangers have now won four Europa League games in a row at home and are unbeaten in seven at Ibrox. They last enjoyed a longer winning streak in the competition between September 2006 and February 2007.
• None Betis have lost eight of their 11 European game with British teams (W2 D1), including each of the last four.
• None Sima scored his third goal in his 10th appearance for Rangers in all competitions, with all three goals coming in different competitions (Europa League, Champions League qualifying and Scottish Premiership).
Rangers return to Premiership duty on Sunday when Motherwell come to Ibrox (15:00 BST). Their next Europa League challenge comes away to Aris Limassol (17:45).