GLASGOW, Scotland (AP)Rangers was left with an unwanted group-stage record in the Champions League after losing 3-1 at home to Ajax on Tuesday, which secured a place in the Europa League’s qualifying playoffs.
Rangers finished Group A with six straight losses and a goal difference of minus 20 – the worst group stage record ever.
On another damaging European night for the Scottish team, Steven Berghuis put the Dutch champions ahead in the fourth minute before Mohammed Kudus added a second in the 29th.
Rangers captain James Tavernier scored a late penalty but substitute Francisco Conceicao soon restored the visitors’ two-goal lead. The win sealed third place in the group for Ajax, whose two victories both came against Rangers.
The previous worst group-stage record was held by Dinamo Zagreb, which lost all six games and finished with a goal difference of minus 19 in 2011-12.
Rangers will be glad the punishment is over in its first Champions League campaign in 12 years.
It needed a win by five goals or more to drop into the Europa League but even the most fervent Rangers supporters dismissed that possibility.
Putting together a team was a challenge itself for coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who had midfielder John Lundstram suspended and nine players injured.
Former Rangers defender Calvin Bassey was in a strong Ajax side that struck first to dampen the early home optimism. Kudus set up Berghuis to beat goalkeeper Allan McGregor from the edge of the box with a deft chip.
It already looked ominous for Rangers – McGregor had to backtrack to grab a lob from Berghuis from under his crossbar – but the under-strength home side eventually composed themselves and went in search of a leveler.
In the 13th minute, the covering Bassey headed Fashion Sakala’s header off the line after good work by winger Ryan Kent to get his cross in from the left.
However, another lapse in concentration allowed Ajax to extend its lead, this time Owen Wijndal the provider for Kudus, whose deflected shot came off teenage defender Leon King to beat McGregor.
The keeper pulled off a fine save from Steven Bergwijn minutes later and the first boos of frustration from the stands came soon afterward when Kudus fired an effort just wide of the far post.
Kudus had the ball in the net in the 55th minute following a sweeping move but Swedish referee Glenn Nyberg ruled it out for offside after a VAR check.
A terrific shot on the turn by Scott Arfield in the 70th minute was tipped over the bar by the under-employed Ajax keeper Remko Pasveer but the corner was defended.
In the 84th minute, Morelos took advantage of a mistake by Pasveer but failed to hit the target with the goal gaping.
Moments later, Rangers substitute Rabbi Matondo, on for Kent, was brought down by Edson Alvarez inside the box and Tavernier converted the penalty.
However, Conceicao, only on the field for a minute, scored from close range and referee Nyberg soon blew his whistle to signal the end of a campaign that goes down in history for all the wrong reasons for the Glasgow club.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports