There are goals that simply deserve an audience. Certainly more than the 3,750 fans permitted access to a rain-lashed Stade Maurice Dufrasne on Thursday night.
There may well not be a better strike in the entirety of this season’s Europa League than the one Kemar Roofe produced to mark his return to Belgium. His last goal for Anderlecht was in this ground on December 15, but it was eclipsed by a piece of brilliance that sealed a perfect start to Group D for Steven Gerrard’s men.
On as a 74th-minute sub for Alfredo Morelos, Roofe gathered the ball inside Rangers territory on a part-submerged surface as a third minute of stoppage time began. Drifting away from two challenges, the £3.5million summer signing still hadn’t reached the halfway line when he spotted keeper Arnaud Bodart off his line. What followed was majestic.
Kemar Roofe’s stoppage-time strike from the halfway line sank the Belgian outfit
Standard Liege: Bodart, Fai (Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez 64), Vanheusden,Dussene (Jans 78), Gavory, Bokadi, Lestienne (Avenatti 72), Bastien, Cimirot, Amallah (Cop 72), Muleka (Oulare 46).
Subs Not Used: Gillet, Sylvestre, Shamir, Boljevic, Henkinet, Pavlovic, Laifis.
Booked: Dussene, Bastien, Bokadi.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic (Ughelumba 43), Arfield, Jack, Kamara, Hagi (Aribo 67), Morelos (Roofe 74), Kent.
Subs Not Used: Helander, Davis, Itten, Patterson, Barker, Stewart, McLaughlin, Barjonas, King.
Booked: Hagi, McGregor, Ughelumba, Roofe.
Goals: Tavernier 19 pen, Roofe 90.
Ref: Jakob Kehlet (Denmark).
Connecting perfectly despite the dismal underfoot conditions, Roofe launched an outrageous effort that arced high into the sky before dropping into the net with impudent grace. It was 54.6 yards, to be exact, the longest distance recorded for a goal in this tournament.
The back-tracking Bodart looked on in utter despair and Roofe was engulfed by delighted — and astonished — team-mates.
However, there were heated scenes after the final whistle as the home bench took exception to Roofe’s celebration — for which he was booked — leading to a wider confrontation between the two sides. It’s possible further disciplinary action might follow if the match delegate takes a dim view.
Roofe, though, set the seal on a night when Rangers continued to set a standard in Liege.
The Belgians hadn’t lost any of their last 15 home matches in continental competition — stretching back six years.
Ajax, Arsenal, Sevilla and Eintracht Frankfurt are among those to have failed here. So this was quite the venue for Gerrard to record his first away win in the Europa League group stage.
His team saw it though despite a torrential second-half downpour. With the ball sticking and splashing in puddles, there was briefly a fear the elements might deny Rangers even if the opposition couldn’t.
Game-management came to the fore prior to Roofe’s spectacular clincher. Granted a merited lead by James Tavernier’s first-half penalty — his ninth goal in ten games — the Ibrox men ensured they would go one better than past, worthy draws against Villarreal, Feyenoord and Porto.
Tavernier was among a core of impressive performers that encompassed Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield.
The scoreline mirrored last weekend’s Old Firm success. And, again, half-time was reached with just a couple of scares and the precious advantage of a single-goal lead.
The latter was provided by skipper Tavernier from the spot in the 19th minute. He was also involved in the lead-up as his deep corner kick found Goldson, who towered above marker Noe Dussenne and headed downwards. The ball struck the outstretched left hand of Nicolas Gavory and Danish referee Jakob Kehlet had an easy call.
Rangers captain James Tavernier continued his remarkable goal-scoring spree
The pace on Tavernier’s drilled effort negated Bodart guessing the right way.
Ianis Hagi was then unfortunate not to mark his 22nd birthday with a goal when he unleashed a strike from 30 yards which flew inches past the junction of post and bar.
The hosts’ golden opportunity came on 28 minutes. A terrific cross from the right by Cameroon international Collins Fai was met by Jackson Mulenka. His flying header was expertly angled, but cracked against the bar, with Allan McGregor at full stretch. Shortly afterwards, Goldson made a superbly-timed challenge to halt Mulenka in his tracks.
Rangers were sitting tight and central, giving up some ground in wide areas but always ready to spring into them on the break. When Tavernier did so to deliver from the right, Arfield laid off to Morelos. Strangely, the Colombian opted to try and feed it back to the midfielder rather than shoot and the opportunity was gone.
Defender netted his ninth goal in 10 games this season from the penalty spot in the 19th minute
Gerrard’s plans were disrupted in the 43rd minute when Borna Barisic departed with an apparent thigh injury. Calvin Bassey took over, but the Rangers defence still had to deal with a naughty bit of play from Mulenka before the break.
This time, Maxine Lestienne was the supplier, only for Mulenka to handle as he sent another effort against the bar. McGregor was booked for his outrage after Kehlet failed to spot the infringement.
It proved Mulenka’s last involvement. Obbi Oulare was introduced up front for the second period, but it was his Rangers counterpart who had a clear sight of goal two minutes after the restart.
Tavernier’s quality and composure was evident as he slipped the ball through. But it wasn’t matched by Morelos. A poor first touch allowed Bodart to narrow the angle and make a block. The Colombian really should have equalled Ally McCoist’s European goal scoring record.
The Ibrox club rode their luck at times in a rain-soaked Liege on Thursday night
Morelos was unluckier just before the hour mark. His touch set up Arfield for an initial shot blocked before he was found by Hagi’s through-ball. Morelos struck firmly off his right boot but Bodart made a solid save.
Rangers hungered for a second goal to clinch it. Bassey surged down the left and found Arfield, who curled just wide from the edge of the area.
By now, a downpour had left the surface sodden. The ball was holding up. It looked a recipe for errors. Roofe, though, turned it into one for magic
A small number of fans were allowed to watch the game by following Covid protocols