Barcelona boss Xavi insists Rangers are Europa League contenders as he refused to accept his club are favourites to lift the trophy.
But Rangers were rocked by the news they feared as star striker Alfredo Morelos was ruled out for the season.
Barcelona – five times Champions League winners – are back in UEFA’s second-tier competition for the first time since being dumped out by Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in 2004.
The bookies now have the Camp Nou club at short odds to go all the way but Xavi reckons the tournament is wide open and claims the Ibrox factor could see Rangers emerge as shock winners.
Xavi sampled the ferocious Govan atmosphere in the Champions League in 2007.
And he reckons that special backing could be enough to roar Gers past Braga and perhaps even beyond Atalanta or RB Leipzig to a place in the Seville final on May 18.
Xavi said: “People will say Barcelona are favourites because of history and they are used to seeing us play in the Champions League – but this is not the Champions League. We are contenders, we have a big chance, but I will not sit here and say we are favourites.
“The quarter-finals are very strong and at this stage everybody involved will feel they have a chance to win.
“As somebody who has played in Glasgow, nobody is going to get an easy time against Rangers. But it is a competition we are taking seriously and want to win.”
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Rangers’ hopes of retaining the Premiership look all but over but they could yet gain a direct ticket to the group stage if they can stun their way to Europa League glory.
But they will have to do so without Morelos for the season after the club confirmed he had undergone thigh surgery.
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