Football: All passion spent for Rangers as Ibrox European dream is shattered

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The Independent Online
Rangers. . . . .0

CSKA Moscow. . .0

THE dream ended without a bang at Ibrox last night as Rangers bowed out of the Champions' Cup unbeaten but unable to produce a winning goal when it mattered most.

Walter Smith's heroic fighters had to settle for a draw on a night when the insistent promptings of Ian Durrant, Ian Ferguson and Trevor Steven failed to prise open the Russian defence and for the first time in the competition luck deserted the Scots. In the event, however, Marseille's 1-0 victory in Bruges through Alen Boksic's second-minute goal would have made even a Rangers victory academic, the French champions winning the right to meet Milan in the final in Munich on 26 May.

Moscow's goalkeeper Yevgeny Plotnikov produced three outstanding saves to keep his goal intact, from Steven, Stuart McCall and John Brown. On another night they would have gone in but it was not to be and when the final whistle sounded Rangers' players, physically and mentally drained from the events of the last five months, sank weeping to the ground as their supporters afforded them an emotional standing ovation.

Richard Gough was a tower of strength at the back, McCall was a dynamo in midfield and Durrant, who has come back from crippling injury, was in irrepressible mood, finding space and hitting the incisive pass. He typified the spirit of the Rangers' players on the biggest night of their lives.

Rangers' task was made more difficult by the absence of their suspended striker Mark Hateley. His regular partner Ally McCoist has 49 goals to his credit this season but has failed to score in a Champions' League match, making it the more galling that he squandered three opportunities, two of which were headers that flashed wide of goal.

The third, his best, on the hour mark was a type he normally scores as a matter of course. Collecting a through-ball on the angle of the six-yard area he shaped to shoot but his touch deserted him and the ball ended wide.

That miss was one of many in a furious second half when Rangers threw everything into a desperate effort to score. Within seconds of the restart Ferguson had combined with Durrant and his lay-off was powerfully hit by Steven only for the gloved hand of Plotnikov to divert the ball on to the bar and out for a corner.

The goalkeeper later produced two memorable saves low to his right as Rangers ended the half as they had begun. They deserved to score but that touch of luck which has carried them through before now refused to help.

And the men from Moscow might well have stolen a goal of their own had it not been for an alert Andy Goram who made brave stops from Vladimir Dudnik and twice from Oleg Sergeyev.

The value of their European run will be felt next season with Rangers virtually assured of a fifth successive Premier Division title and with it another appearance in the Champions' Cup. They remain unofficial British champions, having beaten Leeds United and in 10 European ties they have emerged undefeated.

'We would dearly have liked to have ended with a win at home,' Walter Smith, the manager, said, while McCoist said: 'There's a lot of proud boys in the dressing-room. It's not getting so far but the fact that we have been representing the whole of Great Britain that counts.'

As the stadium emptied the public address system regaled the disappearing fans with the Whitney Houston song 'Didn't We Almost Have It All?' It was a poignant finale.

Rangers: Goram; McCall, Robertson, Gough, McPherson, Brown, Steven (McSwegan, 81), Ferguson, McCoist, Durrant, Huistra.

CSKA Moscow: Plotnikov; Guschin, Mamchur, Mashkarin, Maliukov, Bushmanov, Minko, Korsakov, Antonovich, Sergeyev, Fayzullin (Dudnik, 61).

Referee: P Mikkelsen (Denmark).

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