By Craig Rae.
It was a tale of three penalties at Ibrox as Rangers were dealt a harsh 3-0 defeat at the hands of Napoli.
The result puts the Neapolitans top of Group A and in pole position to qualify for the Last 16.
For Rangers, however, the harsh reality is that it will now be extremely difficult to be playing football in Europe after Christmas.
It was a sombre occasion at Ibrox as the stadium fell silent for 60 seconds in memory of Queen Elizabeth II followed by a rousing rendition of God Save the King.
It clearly had a positive impact on the players who started the game strongly, with Morelos heading the ball over the bar after a tantalising cross from Tavernier after only 30 seconds.
The favour was nearly repaid at the other end almost instantly with Zielinksi smacking the post for Napoli as it looked like an eventful evening was to follow, and so it proved.
Scott Arfield went close in the 13th minute as Rangers continued their bright start, rocketing a ball towards Meret that he expertly put out for a corner.
Rangers continued to dominate most of the first half without creating any clear-cut chances, with Alfredo Morelos showing his worth by expertly leading the line in his first start since March.
The second half started brightly for Rangers again who were making Napoli work and it looked like the Light Blues were about to be undone after a slack Arfield pass allowed Simeone to progress through on goal and a penalty was awarded after Sands was adjudged to have clipped him from behind with the American being sent off for a second bookable offence.
It looked harsh on Sands who from one angle looked like he won the ball and from another looked like he didn’t, so the decision really could have gone either way.
Zielinski stepped up and shot to McGregor’s right, but the legendary keeper got his hands to it and kept it out, however, Politano got the rebound under his legs and Napoli were 1-0 up – or so they thought.
A Napoli and Rangers jersey had intruded into the box before the kick was taken, and after a VAR consultation, the penalty had to be retaken.
Zielinski stepped up for his second bite at the cherry but was miraculously foiled by McGregor again who guessed that he would go the same way, this surely now puts McGregor back in place as the Number 1 keeper at Ibrox.
Sadly though, the joy was to be short lived as another penalty was given, this time for a handball from Borna Barisic in the box.
Politano stepped up this time and made no mistake as he expertly converted past McGregor to make it 1-0.
The manager had the choice to stick or twist and he decided to twist by bringing on Antonio Colak and Rabbi Matondo to go for an equaliser, but alas, the attempts were in vain as Raspadori scored after outmuscling Glen Kamara again, securing the points.
The pressure of playing with ten men got to the side in injury time as a slack Kamara pass allowed Tanguy Ndombele to net the third and rubber stamp the victory.
It was a harsh score line but also a harsh lesson for Rangers who have now suffered three defeats on the spin.
Despite this, the positive performance will leave fans in a more hopeful mood than the last couple of games as the team go into Saturday’s match against Dundee United at Ibrox.