This was the night his son came of age on the Europa League stage.
At just 21, Ianis Hagi assumed the responsibility of dragging a seemingly-defeated Rangers team up by their bootlaces. How those in blue around him responded on a breathless evening to rank alongside any this stadium has hosted in recent years.
Two down to a Braga team displaying their swashbuckling brilliance that has made them Portugal’s hottest property, Hagi simply refused to concede.
Ianis Hagi scored twice to help secure a remarkable turnaround for Steven Gerrard’s side
The winger’s father Gheorghe was watching his son take to the Ibrox stage for the first time
With 23 minutes remaining, he lit the blue touch paper. An exquisite finish suddenly provided hope where there had seemed none.
Substitute Joe Aribo fed off it with a brilliant individual effort to equalise, before Hagi’s deflected free-kick in the 82nd minute gave Steven Gerrard’s men a truly incredible last 32 first leg lead. Make no mistake, the young Romanian was the one turned the tide to leave his dad and almost 50,000 others in a state of delirium. He showed the bravery a desperate situation demanded.
It means the castle Gerrard has built in Europe is still standing. A 14-game home unbeaten record looked as good as gone when superb goals from Fransergio and Abel Ruiz put Braga in control. Somehow, though, Rangers are still very much alive as they prepare to head to the Municipal Stadium next Wednesday evening.
That is a mission they will have to undertake without Alfredo Morelos after the Colombian collected an unnecessary first-half booking – and yet another suspension. Morelos continues to look somewhat off-form in any case, with decent chances missed here. Thankfully for Rangers, Hagi and Aribo provided incision in his place.
The Gers will be without Alfredo Morelos for the second leg after the Colombian was booked
Their strikes condemned Braga to their first Europa League in 14 games and a first in ten under the management of Ruben Amorim. He and his players will have to clear spinning heads before seeking revenge next week.
Any thought that the significance of this match would lead to patient tactical probing was exploded in a frantic start. Three prime chances were created and missed before the opener arrived after just 11 minutes.
Raul Silva saw a free header parried by Allan McGregor, while winger Trincao Francisco – bound for Barcelona in a £28 million deal – went close with a low drive after Braga sliced through the Rangers defence. For the hosts, Morelos was sprung behind a persistently high defensive line for a cross that just eluded Ryan Kent.
Then came the breakthrough. While the finish was incredible, the prelude would have annoyed Gerrard.
Glen Kamara set the tone for a poor first half personally by giving the ball possession in his own half. Rangers had chances to regather but couldn’t, with Paulinho and Joao Palhinha combining to supply Fransergio. The Braga skipper stepped away from Arfield to unleash a spectacular, swerving 30-yarder that flew beyond McGregor.
Brazilian Fransergio produced a spectacular 30-yard strike to give the away side an early lead
Hagi optimistically appealed for a penalty as a quick response was sought but the Portuguese outfit looked dangerous every time they strode stylishly forward. Trincao crossed for Paulinho header that looped over.
Morelos, though, had two chances to level before his disciplinary lapse. Both were supplied by Hagi, the first coming from a poked through-ball. Morelos was away through the inside-right channel but his low, angled drive was blocked by the outstretched left boot of Braga keeper Matheus. It was a solid save, but you still felt the pre-Christmas Morelos would have found a way to score.
A lovely diagonal from Hagi gave him another opening. This one was more tricky as he pulled away from substitute Galeno before being thwarted by Matheus at the near post.
Four minutes from the break, Morelos ensured he would sit out the second leg. A clip of Bruno Viana’s heels after the defender had played a pass altered Spanish referee Xavier Estrada Fernandez before Morelos voiced his disapproval of the decision. Whatever the deciding factor, the booking incurred was costly.
It was a disappointing night for Alfredo Morelos who missed two glorious chances to score
The delightfully-balanced Trincao almost sent Braga in two ahead when he opened up his left foot to whip one fractionally wide. Gerrard needed a transformation in the second period. It took its time in arriving.
Paulinho took an uncharacteristically terrible touch when clean through on McGregor shortly after the restart before Fransergio clipped the top of the bar with another almighty thump.
You felt Rangers couldn’t let another chance pass. But they did. And again it was Morelos who was unable to find the finishing touch.
Hagi’s curling cross set up a close-range effort blocked by Matheus. The 23-year-old couldn’t quite sort out his feet as the keeper scrambled desperately along his line to clear.
Three minutes later, it was 2-0. Trincao’s exquisite back-heel took Niko Katic out of the game released Abel Ruiz. On loan from Barcelona, the striker shifted away from covering defenders to send a cannonball shot into the net from 18 yards.
On-loan Barcelona striker Abel Ruiz doubled Braga’s advantage just after the hour mark
It looked like that would settle it, but Hagi was utterly determined to put on a show for his old man. He had already seen a deflected dig clawed out by Matheus before beginning the extraordinary comeback on 67 minutes.
Taking control at the angle of the area, Hagi dipped inside Ricardo Esgaio to hammer home a terrific left-foot shot via the inside of a post.
What a change in momentum it created. From appearing beaten, Rangers suddenly had belief. They levelled it up on 75 minutes with a goal of unadulterated individual brilliance.
Hagi hammered home a terrific left-foot shot via the inside of a post to pull a goal back
On for Kamara, Aribo exchanged passes with Hagi before going for broke. A glorious slaloming run took him away from no fewer than four Braga defenders before a composed finish. Little wonder Gerrard reacted with such delight.
It was a celebration repeated and amplified on 82 minutes when what had previously seemed all but impossible suddenly became reality.
Hagi took aim with a free-kick 25 yards out, the defensive wall intervened with a deflection and Matheus was beaten again. A firework was thrown onto the fringe of the pitch – likely bringing UEFA punishment – as the place erupted in reaction to one of the all-time European fightbacks in Rangers’ history.
Joe Aribo produced a stunning solo goal to bring Rangers level with 15 minutes remaining
Hagi’s winning goal wrong-footed Braga goalkeeper Matheus after taking a huge deflection
The Rangers manager produced a passionate celebration after his side’s late comeback