Balogun: Rangers focused on playing in Champions League group stage

The Super Eagles centre-back has his sights set on playing in the elite European competition next season

Rangers are hoping to replicate their domestic winning run and qualify for the 2021-22 Champions League group stage, according to Nigeria defender Leon Balogun.

The Gers are yet to play in the group stage of the top European tournament since their last outing in 2010.

Thanks to their Premiership success last campaign, Steven Gerrard’s men will begin their quest to play in the Champions League in the third qualifying round.

They are four matches away from the group stage, however, Balogun is confident of the Gers’ progress.

“We have our heads set on qualifying for the Champions League, and that has always been a dream for me,” the 33-year-old told Rangers TV.

“We have to put in the work for that, but everyone really has that target set and is keen on that. I am working under an amazing management team with some amazing players and some amazing talent, and it is elite, definitely.

“The focus is high and I can sense that feeling of everyone wanting to replicate that winning feeling again as it has been so overwhelming and so nice that you don’t want to lose that.

“It is something I have seen from the first day I came in, and it is quite contagious. If you look at the gym, you have a real culture there of everyone pushing on and working on weaknesses and working on strength as well just to make sure everybody is in the right state of mind and body as well.”

The Super Eagles centre-back won the first silverware of his career last season after helping Rangers lift their 55th league title.

He initially moved to Ibrox Stadium on a short-term deal before the contract was extended by another year towards the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

Balogun recently recovered from a calf injury and he is relishing the opportunity to join Gerrard’s squad for their pre-season training programme with a friendly fixture lined up against Arsenal on Saturday.

“Last season I didn’t really have a break – I came straight off playing games, but this year, I had a break so it is very important, as for everyone else,” he added.

“It is my first full pre-season in a long time as I have always been away on internationals, so it is good to feel your body like that again as I always say this is the time where you can break through some limits that you had before and set some new limits, and also work on the mental side, working through the fatigue and that pain that you have sometimes.

“So I welcome it – even though it hurts at times!”

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