FASHION Sakala is confident Rangers will be able to draw on the lessons they learned during their epic Europa League run last season in their Champions League qualifier against Belgian rivals Royal Union Saint-Gilloise and progress to the play-offs.
Sakala spent three years playing in the Jupiler Pro League with Oostende before moving to Glasgow on a free transfer last summer and knows that Union, who were narrowly beaten to the title by Club Brugge last term, will be tough opponents.
The forward has watched the Brussels outfit, who returned to the top flight for the first time in 49 years after winning the Challenger Pro League last year, in action on television and spoke to former team mates about them. But the Zambian, who featured in the wins over Brondby, Sparta Prague, Red Star, Braga and RB Leipzig as well as the final against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 2021/22 campaign, believes Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team has the experience to deal with the third qualifying round match in the Den Dreef on Tuesday night.
“Union were in the lower league at the time I was there,” he said. “But I have watched some of their games in the Belgian league even though I had left and they are a good side. But obviously we are Rangers so we are ready for them.
“This team we are going to face in the Champions League have just come from the Second Division and they almost won the league. They topped the league and lost in the play-offs. It is a very good competition.
“I have had conversations with my friends in Belgium about them, especially when they were top of the league. We talked about them before the draw and before we knew we were facing them. So I knew a lot about them before.
“I have watched some games that they played. I wasn’t that interested when I watched – but now we are facing them! It is becoming very interesting. I did the right thing to watch them a little bit because I have an idea about how they play.
“Honestly, at that time I wasn’t looking for their weaknesses because I didn’t know we were going to be facing them. Now we have people who analyze the teams that we are going to be facing so I know their weaknesses.”
Sakala added: “Looking at the journey we had last season, everyone is expecting us to win this game easily. That is something that our players are focused on – we have to win.
“I believe we are going to do it because our target is to play in the Champions League this season. That is the dream of each and every player. Last season we had a very good season because we did everything together. The team is looking very exciting, even better this season. I think we are going to have a really good season.
“It was amazing to play against such good teams in the Europa League last season. But Rangers is one of those big teams. It is just that we play in a league that people don’t consider to be good. People think the Scottish league is the worst league in the world.
“But you have teams that can play in big, big competition. Because Dortmund were playing in the Bundesliga, everyone thought they were the favorites to win. But we shocked them. We are playing in this league, but Rangers is above this competition, this league.”
Union are not allowed to play the first leg of the third qualifying round double header at home because the Joseph Marien Stadium does not meet UEFA requirements and Sakala suspects the switch of venue to the nearby Den Dreef will help Rangers record a win.
“I feel it is an advantage for us that they have changed the venue because they are obviously more comfortable in their own stadium,” he said. “Both sides will be going to a place we are not used to. It will be a 50-50 situation. But we are Rangers so we are always thinking about winning.”