Depleted Rangers reach point of no return

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It is a time of opportunity in the Stadio delle Alpi tonight. A chance for the unheralded to stride from the shadows and seize the spotlight.

The stage is enticing. Rangers, the ambitious perennial champions of Scotland, against Juventus, joint favourites with Ajax for this year's Champions' Cup trophy.

Sadly, for spectators and television viewers (the match is being shown live in all but the Granada region), the game has been denuded of a cluster of its biggest stars.

Rangers will be without the skills of Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup and Charlie Miller - and the more brutal presence of Ian Ferguson. Juventus are missing Gianluca Vialli and two long-term casualties, Attilio Lombardo and Vladimir Jugovic.

Another two potential match-winners went to sleep last night wondering if their bodies would allow them to perform. Oleg Salenko (Rangers) and Fabrizio Ravanelli (Juventus) both face fitness tests today.

Of the two, Ravanelli is the more likely starter, although Salenko's absence would not unduly affect Rangers as Alexei Mikhailichenko stands by. With Alan McLaren suspended, Rangers would appear to be the more significantly weakened, especially as the defensive triumvirate of McLaren, Gordan Petric and Richard Gough forms the heart of their side.

Juventus have already demonstrated their strength in depth, winning 3- 1 away to Borussia Dortmund without either Vialli or Ravanelli. Instead, Alessandro Del Piero, Serie A's rising star, led the attack with a maturity beyond his 20 years. In Vialli's absence, he will be pushed forward again tonight.

For Rangers, Craig Moore, the young Australian, is expected to replace McLaren, Ian Durrant may come in for Gascoigne, and Ally McCoist is likely to play a central striking role with Gordon Durie and either Salenko or Mikhailichenko on the flanks.

"This match will show whether we have a chance of qualifying," Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, said. "We have got to do more than we did in Bucharest [Rangers lost 1-0]. We defended well there but did not cause them any problems.''

Juventus have at least been shown to be mortal, having been outplayed in losing to Milan on Sunday. "If we play like we did then, Rangers will beat us," Marcello Lippi, their manager, said. "But if we play to our normal level and spirit, we do not need to worry about anyone. Gough is dangerous at set-pieces and I have been impressed with Durie. But Rangers will miss the creativity of Gascoigne and Laudrup.''

Even with those two, Rangers would be stretched. Juventus won the domestic double last year and reached the final of the Uefa Cup. Fortunately, the one department where Rangers are superior is in goal. However, Andy Goram's notoriously vulnerable equilibrium may be unbalanced after being arrested and charged with drink-driving at the weekend. His Juventus counterpart, Angelo Perruzzi, was once banned for a year for drug-taking.

Rangers have been here before. In 1978, they knocked Juventus out of the European Cup. That success was achieved under the two-legged rule: Rangers lost 1-0 in Turin, but defeated the Italians 2-0 at Ibrox. Under the Champions' League format, a narrow defeat is worthless. Anything less than a point and Rangers will be staring at European oblivion once more.