The potential Rangers Champions League qualifying rivals revealed as Clement faces prospect of emotional reunion

Champions League draw balls -Credit:AP
Champions League draw balls -Credit:AP

Rangers were dreaming of taking part in the Europa League Final in Dublin this season but their hopes were ended by Benfica.

But it will be worth still having an eye on events at the Aviva Stadium in Ireland because one outcome might suit them – as it would remove of the possibility of facing the Portuguese giants who eliminated them in next season’s Champions League qualifiers!

Benfica lost out on the Portuguese Primeira Liga title to Lisbon rivals Sporting this season in a similar scenario to Rangers themselves who are just waiting for Celtic to be crowned champions. However, Benfica still have a chance of skipping the qualifiers for UEFA’s premier competition next season and going straight into the most lucrative ever group stage with the revamped format.

And that will come if Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen complete their stunning unbeaten campaign and defeat Italians Atalanta to lift the Europa League.

The reason for that is because if this season's winners of the Europa League also qualify for the Champions League by their league position – as the Germans have done – then the team in the Champions League qualifiers with the best five-year record gets bumped up. Rangers themselves were actually in contention for that but with Benfica missing out, it would go to them.

The Ibrox side still have the Scottish Cup Final to look forward to on Saturday week as they to end a roller-coaster season on a high. But Philippe Clement is already turning his attention to his first pre-season in charge and a huge summer rebuild.

In European teams, the good news is they’re guaranteed group stage football. If they lose in either of their Champions League qualifiers then they will drop into the Europa League group, as they did this season after losing to PSV Eindhoven having beaten Swiss side Servette.

But they will be desperate to dine at European football’s top table and the mega millions that come with it. Final league placings are still being decided across the continent but supporters – not to mention those in the boardroom – will be keen to look at the type of challenge that could face them when the draw is made in July.

Rangers will go into the third qualifying round, non-champions route. If Atalanta beat Bayer Leverkusen then Benfica would be seeded alongside Rangers in the third qualifying round. The unseeded opponents both they and the Ibrox side could face in that round are the likes of SALZBURG, FENERBAHCE, DYNAMO KYIV, PARTIZAN BELGRADE, LUGANO, FC TWENTE or BREST.

For the play-off round, Clement’s old club CLUB BRUGGE are key. If the Belgians don’t reach the play-off round then Rangers WILL be seeded but if they are in the play-off hat then Rangers would be unseeded and could face them or BENFICA. Clement spent 10 years of his playing career at Brugge and later managed them, including in the Champions League, so it could be an emotional reunion – with plenty riding on it.