STEVEN Gerrard has downplayed suggestions that his Rangers side is good enough to triumph in the Europa League this season in the aftermath of the famous win over Royal Antwerp and emphasised a place in the next round is still far from secure.

The Ibrox club, who came from 2-1 and 3-2 down in the Bosuilstadion in Belgium on Thursday evening to triumph 4-3, have an excellent chance of progressing to the last 16 of the competition for the second season running.

The Premiership leaders are undefeated in all 10 of their European games in the 2020/21 campaign and fans and pundits have started to speculate that they could go all the way to the final in Gdansk in May.

But Gerrard, who was unhappy with how Rangers defended in the first leg in Flanders and at the soft goals they conceded, believes his team will have to perform far better in the rematch with opponents who will be bolstered by the return of key players to go through.

“In years to come we may be a team capable of competing, but we have to be careful we don’t look too far ahead,” he said.  

“From the inside we understand that the supporters can get excited, but we have to be realistic about where we are and what’s in front of us. There’s a big challenge on Thursday, they’ll have players returning from injury and they will be stronger. 

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“We have put ourselves in a real strong position to go and finish the job off. I would love nothing better than to improve on last year, get into the last 16 at least and try to go a step further. 

“We don’t want to make any targets or say unrealistic things into the media. But there is no harm in aiming as high as you can and trying to get the best out of this group and taking them as far as we can.

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“We believe that on our day we are a good match for the majority of teams, certainly at Europa League level.

“But we certainly see this tie at half-time. We have an advantage of course and have put ourselves in a good position, but the key for us is we need to defend a lot better over the course of the next 90 minutes.” 

Didier Lamkel Ze, the Antwerp striker who was suspended this week but will be available to play at Ibrox next week, has been Franky Vercauteren’s best performer this year and has netted five times in his last eight games.

Gerrard, who looks set to be without his skipper James Tavernier and striker Kemar Roofe in the rematch due to the injuries they picked up on Thursday night, is wary of the threat the Cameroonian will pose.

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“We are aware that they will have players returning to the group who will make them stronger,” he said. “Lamkel Ze brings more mobility, more speed and more profile to their team and he obviously carries a goal threat.

“But we have faced players on a similar level before and done extremely well. I’ve confidence in the team that we can go and finish the job off, but it’s only half-time. 

“We won’t get too carried away. There’s 90 minutes of football and Antwerp showed Thursday night that they are capable of hurting us if we are not at it. Oh no, we respect what is coming our way on Thursday and we have to be better when that happens.”

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Rangers win over Antwerp kept Scotland narrowly ahead of Ukraine in the UEFA club coefficient rankings in 11th place – and increased the chance of next season’s Premiership champions earning automatic entry into the Champions League group stages in the 2022/23 campaign.

“Listen, that is something we are trying to work on both domestically and on the European stage,” said Gerrard. “It’s tough because we are fighting with two other teams at the moment. I know Kiev got a draw last night and the other team (Shakhtar Donetsk) won. 

“It’s a case of just seeing where we can take it. We want to win the game next Thursday, it’s not a case of trying to just scrape over the line.  We want another positive win. We are aware of the coefficient and we want to do our best for the country and for ourselves. 

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“But the most important thing for me is results and we need to keep trying to get those rather than worry about coefficients. That will take care of itself.

“Europe is very important. The league is the bread and butter at this football club, but Europe is so, so important. I would love to have a domestic cup on the CV, of course I would, but financially this club doesn’t function how we want it to without European funds. So that goes to show how important it is.” 

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