A second-half Josh Windass goal lifted Scottish giants Rangers F.C. to a 1-0 win over Brazilian side Clube Atlético Mineiro in the second game of the 2018 Florida Cup at Orlando City Stadium. It was the first appearance in the tournament for Rangers, who used possession-oriented play to outmatch the more direct playing style of Atletico, which consistently struggled against Rangers’ high press.
“It was a very good workout and result in very humid conditions that we’re not used to,” said Rangers Manager Graeme Murty after the match. “I saw a lot of promising things from both halves.”
While the starters remained deadlocked at the half, it proved the substitutes had what Rangers needed to secure the win tonight. Atletico appeared to see if they could take advantage of the mass substitution by the opponents to begin the second half but it looked very much the opposite. The Scots were unopposed — substitutes or not — against the starters from Brazil. Windass, Florida Cup’s Man of the Match, broke the deadlock in the 69th minute on what was ultimately a night Atletico will want to forget as the Brazilians looked out of sorts all evening.
Atletico lined up in a 4-5-1, with goalkeeper Cleiton, defenders Adson, Rodrigão, Donato and Mansur, midfielders Adilson, Lorran, Ralph, Pablo, and Thalis, and the lone forward Leleu. Cleiton and Masur the only two holdovers from the first team with the rest filled in with a collection of young talent.
Rangers countered with a 4-4-2 with Jan Alnwick in net and defenders Danny Wilson, James Tavernier, Dálcio Gomes, and Aidan Wilson. The midfield consisted of Jason Holt, Serge Atakayi, Jamie Murphy and Sean Goss. The men up top were Alfredo Morelos and underneath him played Niko Krancjar. On paper, Rangers appeared to bring the stronger side with six players listed on the first team. Murphy and Goss were both added to the team in this transfer window and were seeing their first starts as Rangers.
Atletico started hot on the front foot causing a clearance from Alnwick and another opportunity where the keeper was forced to push the winger toward the goal line, leading to an eventual corner that found the six-yard box but nothing else.
Following that immediate burst out of the gate, Rangers took control while adhering to their possession and press tactics. It caused Atletico to come into countless needless challenges and fouls as the Brazilians appeared frustrated at the lack of possession. Atletico’s eventual attacks were in haste and often the counter-attack seemed without the intent to find more than two passes.
In the 13th minute, off a great ball from Cleiton, Gomes — usually a midfielder — misplayed the ball as it went clear over his head, giving the Atletico winger the chance to send through a pass to a streaking Thalis, who then barely missed the net with a ball off the post.
Rangers countered right back a minute later, with their own combination that led to a corner off the efforts of youth academy footballer Atakayi. The corner found Morelos’ head only to go over the bar slightly.
Atletico continued to build their attack through one to three direct passes, which led to a horrible mistake by Gomes in the 18th minute, when a clumsy challenge led the ball falling into the oncoming run of Pablo, turning it into a 1-v-1. Alnwick made a fantastic stretched foot save despite Pablo having a straight-on look 16 yards from goal. The ensuing corner led to some additionally sloppy play by the Scottish side but ended harmlessly.
Rangers again took control of the match for the next few minutes as Goss found a long-distance shot that troubled no one and Tavernier made a fantastic run but the shot proved too difficult as it went straight to the Atletico keeper.
The starting Rangers defense continued with some sloppy play as Atletico’s No. 10 beat Wilson on a challenge to earn another corner, which found Rodrigão, but the ball went far over the crossbar.
The press continued to prove troublesome for Atletico, who found themselves in a tight spot in the 33rd minute, as Rangers captain Krancjar found a ball off some combination play that started off an Atletico mistake. Krancjar was 12 yards from goal, but unfortunately was off balance to do anything other than put it into the gut of Cleiton.
On one of their best chances of the half, Rangers had a 43rd-minute free kick dead center from 25 yards out. Krancjar stepped over the ball with Gomes and Goss on either side. Atletico had a small four-man wall but the captain shot it right at the goalkeeper again.
In a crazy situation in stoppage time, Alnwick, who played very well — and aggressively, I might add — seemingly handled the ball at the arc of the penalty area as he looked to not be aware of his surroundings. However, there was no whistle as most of the Rangers collective held their breath fearing a free kick in what would have been a very dangerous spot.
Rangers changed all but Alnwick at the half — not too unfamiliar in competitions like these — while Atletico appeared to try and gain some advantage with keeping their starters on to face the all-substitute Rangers second-half squad.
The Rangers substitutes got the first look, however, as aggressive combination play led to a couple of corners early. While nothing came of either, the bench was clearly not intimidated off the kick against the Atletico starters.
Off the second corner, it appeared Atletico might take the lead as a beautiful three-pass combination led to a fantastic counter but unfortunately for Atletico it led to nothing of consequence as the Rangers defense tracked very well.
On an odd sequence in the 57th minute, a poor touch by Windass as he drove to goal resulted in a deflection by the Atletico defender right into the feet of a Rangers attacker, which ultimately ended up in a sloppy challenge by Halliday on Rodrigão. This was the second hard foul of the day — only a few minutes apart — and he was subbed for Jordan after Rodrigão was visibly struggling from both hits. Halliday was shown a caution for the offense.
Atletico’s players continued to get knocked around by the more aggressive Scottish side as in the 61st minute Ralph had to come on off for Filipinho after a hard tackle.
Then the match appeared to open up a bit more and have a bit more back and forth as Atletico’s substitutes took on a more possession-based tactic and were more adept at picking their spots to drive forward. It all meant nothing, however, as they could never really find the penetrating pass to find any decent shots.
You could feel something coming on for Rangers as their youth continued to play fast, both in speed and combination, giving Atletico’s back line a lot of fits. Halliday had his best chance of the day when a pass from Windass found him 15 yards off the net, a tad off to the left, only to see the ball spin wide of the right post.
Rangers’ aggressive play finally payed off in the 69th minute, when they finally broke through. Daniel Candeias, on a great sprinting run down the left wing, found Eduardo Hererra in the center of the penalty area, who had a great one-time pass back to Windass 12 yards from net on the left side. Windass calmly bent the ball into the right corner to give the Scottish side the 1-0 lead.
Atletico searched for that elusive equalizer for the next 10 minutes as they found a couple of chances around the area. The day, however, was not going to be theirs as no one really found a true opportunity.
From the 80th to 89th minutes, you would think Rangers would have been content sitting back or moving every attack into the corner but it was quite the opposite. They kept the foot on the pedal as they tried to find the second goal that would ultimately put the Brazilians away for good. Windass was again involved as he found Michael O’Halloran on the right wing, whose cross carried right along the six, only to be just slightly behind Candeias.
Atletico’s best chance of the night was squandered in the 89th as Rangers defender David Bates made a gaffe of a pass right up the middle of the pitch to no one except Atletico attacker Xavier. Xavier drove towards goal only to push the ball too wide, giving no trouble to the charging keeper.
In stoppage — all six minutes of it — Atletico continued to press and found a couple of dangerous balls into the penalty area only to be cleared by the center backs and substitute goalkeeper Liam Kelly, who came out wonderfully on a very dangerous cross in the 91st and 93rd minutes.
“I had talked to the team before the match and told them that they need to set the foundation for the second half of the season and everyone needs to take full part in it,” Murty said. “These were small steps, good steps from the young reserves and the returners, both of whom are hungry to show what they can do. Very encouraging steps.”
Rangers return to Florida Cup action Saturday at 1 p.m. vs. Corinthians at UCF’s Spectrum Stadium. Atletico Mineiro face off against Colombian side Atletico Nacional, on Sunday at 1 p.m. — also at UCF.
The Florida Cup rolls on tomorrow at Spectrum Stadium when Dutch side PSV Eindhoven takes on Fluminense from Brazil at 7 p.m. It’ll be PSV’s final match of the tournament after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw vs. Corinthians. Fluminense will be opening their 2018 Florida Cup involvement.