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Rangers backed to provide a challenge for any European powerhouse in next round

Poland Soccer Europa League
(Image credit: Czarek Sokolowski)

Steven Gerrard has warned that Rangers are ready to take on anyone after marching into the last 32 of the Europa League as group winners.

A 2-0 win over Lech Poznan – sealed with goals from Cedric Itten and Ianis Hagi – sealed top spot in Group D and will be seeded for Monday’s midday draw in Nyon.

Gers are unbeaten in 26 games at home and abroad this term and had it not been for two late slip-ups against Benfica they would have won all six games in their section.

Gerrard, however, admits a club that only three years ago was dumped out of Europe by minnows Progres Niederkorn is still not ready to declare themselves a continental heavyweight.

But he reckons they will be a stiff test for whoever they land in the next round.

The Ibrox boss, whose team will avoid the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen and Roma next time out, said: “I think it is a huge achievement to win the group and it is thoroughly deserved.

“Going on our performances over the six games, we deserve to be in the number one position and with a bit more experience we could have won the six games.

“But I don’t think we are ready to be named in the same bracket as some of those big powerhouses across Europe.

“We have to focus and concentrate on ourselves. I think our progress and how quickly we are moving forward is clear to see, certainly from a European point of view.

“There were a lot of changes that needed to be made when we came in because of what had gone on in Europe in terms of not qualifying against part-timers in the first round.

“So to be at this level now and competing and beating teams at this level shows the big steps that we have taken as a group. The challenge now is can we keep building on it?

“We are looking forward to the draw on Monday. We will need a bit of luck, of course we will.

“But when Europe comes around again in February time we will hopefully have a fit squad and if we do we will be a challenge for whoever we face.”

Gerrard was able to rest a string of key men – including skipper James Tavernier, Steven Davis, Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe – and still claim victory.

Youngster Nathan Paterson, Bongani Zungu and Itten all came in for their first European starts and helped Gers complete a straightforward win.

But it was no surprise to the manager that Gers’ second string coped so well.

“I don’t think I have learned too much to be honest because I had trust and confidence making the seven changes before the game,” he said.

“The players have got to go out and prove me right by those decisions but this is the best I have felt in terms of our squad strength and I do have confidence in the 24 or 25 players that we have got.

“We left Roofe and Davis at home while Jermain Defoe has got a different plan. We are about to welcome (Jordan) Jones and (George) Edmundson back in a couple of weeks.

“I am super confident in the squad to make that amount of changes and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have trust and belief that we could go and keep the level that we have been showing in the previous 24 or 25 games.”

Itten has been forced to move out wide for most of his spell at Ibrox since joining in the summer, but he made the most of a run out through the middle as he fired Gers in front on 31 minutes.

Hagi added a second as he followed in to net the rebound when Connor Goldson’s header bounced back up off the line after hitting the crossbar.

Former St Gallen striker Itten has found it difficult to dislodge Morelos and Roofe but Gerrard said: “Cedric has been an absolute pleasure to work with. He is working his socks off and he earned the opportunity tonight and took it with both hands.

“I thought his performance epitomised what we were about as a team tonight, which was aggressive and controlled out of possession, and I thought he deserved his goal. I hope he gets man of the match.

“I haven’t seen a lack of confidence or any frustration from the kid, I have only seen positivity and a kid who wants to play more. And maybe a kid who deserves to play more on tonight’s showing.”