It was so close. They nearly had it all.

As the Rangers half of Seville’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium slumped into the reality of defeat just past midnight, the European fever dream bubble they’d lived in since February finally burst. In the end, the difference between victory and defeat was penalties, Kevin Trapp’s hanging leg to keep out Aaron Ramsey enough to immortalise his Eintracht Frankfurt team.

For Rangers, the manner of their loss could not have been crueller. Although everything was left on the pitch there will now be eternal recycling of 'what if' lamentations in Ibrox folklore. Ultimately the squad's efforts were not quite enough and while in hindsight the run will be talked about with pride, this morning’s reflections still have more than a hint of fantasy. 

Joe Aribo’s discovery of an open attacking avenue had brought about an abrupt moment of hope in what was an amphitheatre of anxiety before extra-time.

Until he slotted beyond Trapp just shy of the hour, the collective Rangers travelling support had watched their Europa League final in a dense cloud of perpetual anxiety, only briefly punctuated by territorial gain rather than any genuine attacking encouragement.

A lead was short-lived and restoration of parity was deserved. Moments after Daichi Kamada’s lobbed attempt nestled in the net of the roof, Frankfurt’s quality, which had always threatened to crack through breaks in the Rangers reargaurd, exposed the smallest of margins. Rafael Borre spun to the back post before hitting the front, ghosting beyond Calvin Bassey and taking advantage of a marginal Connor Goldson positioning error.

This was a deflation felt by the squad previously. Braga and RB Leipzig both equalised two-legged ties at Ibrox and threatened to derail this European dream before it reached Spain. On both occasions, tired legs found solutions and tired minds discovered resolve.

But over the course of 120 minutes, the Germans shaded proceedings; and it wasn’t until the switch to a 5-2-3 in extra time that Rangers really dominated for sustained periods. Did Kemar Roofe come on too late? Did too many key players not match effort with quality? Ultimately, we will never know. 

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Van Bronckhorst opted to not match Frankfurt’s wing-back system from the start, as he had done to navigate beyond Domenico Tedesco’s Leipzig. Instead, Ryan Kent and Scott Wright were tasked with blocking passes from the centre out wide to try and condense the pitch and only in moments did the German’s natural width create overloads. Their system didn’t leave Goldson’s diagonals with much grass to target. Space was on the inside where Wright could turn quickly into on occasion but too often Rangers’ mode of transport from defence to attack lacked invention. It was predictable and preventable. 

Frankfurt sliced through the midfield with more tempo and chemistry but were repeatedly thwarted. Their main blockade went by the name of Calvin Bassey who demonstrated a career-best showing of prevention. Bluntly, if the game were still going on now, you'd suspect his dribbled past statistic would still stand at 0.

The most obvious difference, therefore, aside from the lack of discomfort Oliver Glasner’s men were forced to feel, was clear when transitions occurred. In the game’s most pressurised seconds Rangers sought relief through clearances up the pitch and Frankfurt remained composed to seize the opportunity. They also kept nerve with five perfect penalties. They performed closer to their best than Rangers did throughout the game. 

The tension felt to his observer almost constantly unbearable. The prospect of a villain always more likely than a champion. Each square pass Rangers played seemed to travel at an uncomfortable backwards angle and there was an air of nervousness to the team's possession, however, that can’t be the dominant narrative given victory was always so tantalisingly close. This was almost a dream the Rangers family would’ve never been forced to wake from.

It has captivated fans since Dortmund in February and refused to let go of its ever-tightening grip, while the squad’s enactment of an apparent destiny rumbled on. An Ibrox atmosphere that propelled all four home knockout ties and travelled with supporters into the Seville streets almost continued.

Rangers’ European journey has thrilled, surprised and consumed a worldwide audience and so nearly became a story for the ages. Instead, this incredible run becomes a tale of 11 men who nearly, so very nearly, became immortal.