Rangers’ stunning win over RB Leipzig was a blur for Joe Aribo

For Joe Aribo, Rangers’ stunning Europa League semi-final victory over RB Leipzig gave new meaning to the term ‘knockout success’.

Pole-axed after bravely taking an Angelino free-kick full in the face, Aribo’s night was briefly plunged into darkness. He had to be substituted during first-half stoppage time following lengthy treatment on the pitch.

Thankfully, doctors deemed the 25-year-old hadn’t suffered any serious trauma during the incident and he was able to take a seat in the stand.

Joe Aribo has impressed as Rangers’ makeshift striker and now he has Frankfurt in his sights

Aribo was very briefly knocked out by a free-kick in Rangers’ win over RB Leipzig at Ibrox

The 25-year-old has played 64 games for Rangers and Nigeria this season – only Liverpool’s Luis Diaz has made more appearances

Perched among supporters ecstatic at reaching a first European final for 14 years, Aribo could relish the incredible atmosphere inside Ibrox that night.

Now, however, he is targeting a far more active role when Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side pursue glory against Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday evening.

Asked if he was knocked out in the Leipzig match, Aribo said: ‘For a second or two, I was. But I remember it all.

‘It was an amazing night. We were happy to get that job done and we’re ready for the next one.

‘I was able to watch the rest of the game against Leipzig. I came back out and sat in the stand so it was okay.

‘I was worried that it might be a concussion but the doc said I was fine. It wasn’t the worst outcome that could have happened.

‘Sitting in the stand, the atmosphere was crazy. We had the fans backing us, they were with us the whole game.

‘It was an amazing feeling. Even just being there in the stands and feeling it — it was mental.’

All that now fills Aribo’s head are thoughts of defeating Frankfurt. A hugely adaptable player who may be asked to solve the club’s striker shortage, you suspect his value to Rangers will be immense on this monumental occasion. His durability has already been proven so.

The 25-year-old has played 64 games for Rangers and Nigeria this season. Across European football, only Liverpool’s Luis Diaz has made more appearances.

Aribo has stepped up with Rangers’ regular striker Alfredo Morelos ruled out for the season

Asked how he kept going, Aribo passed credit to his support network at the Auchenhowie training ground.

‘I just think it’s testament to the staff here,’ he argued. ‘Everyone, really. With the chefs, it’s about what I’m eating. The sports scientists help me with my recovery and keep me going.

‘I’ve got to be thankful to them for everything they do.’

With Alfredo Morelos ruled out for the season and doubts over the availability of Kemar Roofe, Aribo could once again be selected to start up front, as he was in the semi-final second leg against Leipzig.

The 25-year-old admits he’s still learning the role but stressed his eagerness to offer any possible assistance in the club’s biggest game for 14 years.

‘First of all I’m just happy to be out there, helping the boys in whatever way I can,’ said Aribo, who also started up front in recent Premiership matches against Celtic and Ross County.

‘It’s different compared to playing in the midfield areas, of course. But I want to add goals into my game so in that sense there is an easier chance to score.

He admits he’s still learning the role but will play anywhere in their biggest game for 14 years

‘I’ve not really played that much up front. It’s one I’m still adapting to. But if it means I play in the next game then so be it.’

Aribo was outstanding prior to the winter break but suffered a lull in form after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Nigeria had looked potential winners of the trophy but suffered a shock last-16 defeat to Tunisia, sparking a riot among their supporters.

The aftermath of that setback lingered. Aribo’s performances suffered. Turning to Van Bronckhorst for advice, he found a way to move on and recapture some of his early-season spark.

Reflecting on the AFCON exit, Aribo admitted: ‘There was disappointment at not going as far as I felt we could have done, because we had a good group stage.

‘Obviously going out in the next round was a bit disappointing but I had to keep going. I had a chat with the manager and he said he’d been there before. He told me he’d been in about five semi-final losses and that’s a hard thing to endure. He really helped me get back.

‘It’s always good to have a manager who has been there and done it because they understand it and know exactly what you are feeling at the time.

Aribo’s form suffered as a result of Nigeria’s poor performance at the Africa Cup of Nations

‘Of course, everyone can go through their own things personally. But a manager with that kind of experience knows how to be with you and what buttons to push.’

Van Bronckhorst’s know-how has been particularly crucial this week. Amongst the Rangers squad, only Steven Davis — veteran of the 2008 UEFA Cup run — has ever played in a European final before.

But their manager knows precisely what it takes. A 2006 Champions League winner with Barcelona, Van Bronckhorst also captained Holland in a World Cup final during his playing career.

‘People with that experience know the scenario,’ added Aribo. ‘It’s a big stage and it might get the better of some people. But we just need to know that we’re confident, we believe in ourselves and feel we can do what we want to do.

‘I rarely ever see the manager shout or raise his voice. He is always so calm. That’s good to have because it kind of relaxes the boys, too.’

Aribo is now approaching the final year of his contract, which might mean a sale from Rangers this summer. What’s certain is that the move to Glasgow has done his career the world of good.

Charlton manager Lee Bowyer claimed Aribo had made the wrong call by leaving England

That wasn’t a universal view when he left Charlton in the summer of 2019. Indeed, Addicks manager Lee Bowyer claimed he’d made the wrong call by leaving England.

With a title medal won last season and Europa League and Scottish Cup finals over the next five days, it’s safe to say Aribo has proved him wrong.

‘Of course, look at what’s going on and what we’ve done,’ he added. ‘Everyone is going to have their opinions at the end of the day. I’ve just got my head down, stayed focused and let my football do the talking.’

Legendary status is within reach. Only the Barcelona Bears of 1972 have ever delivered a European trophy to Ibrox. Aribo is acutely aware of the enormity of the opportunity facing Rangers on Wednesday night.

‘It means a lot to us,’ he said. ‘We know how big it us, for us personally but also for the club. It’s a massive one.

‘All the boys are buzzing. We know what an opportunity we have and we are ready to go.’

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