Football: Amato wary of Valencia threat

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RANGERS' ITALIAN forward Gabriel Amato has warned his team-mates not to read too much into Valencia's poor form ahead of their Champions' League Group F opening match in Spain tonight.

Valencia have lost all three of their Spanish Primera Liga games so far this season, a record in stark contrast to that of Rangers, who lead the Scottish Premier Division after six successive victories.

The Argentinian, who will lead the Rangers attack in place of the injured Rod Wallace, knows a thing or two about the Valencia coach, Hector Cuper, having played under him for a season at Real Mallorca. And he is certain his compatriot will get Valencia out of their slump sooner or later. "Cuper is quite capable of turning things round at Valencia," Amato said on his arrival with the Rangers squad. "He'll just need a little time.

"Of course, I'm glad we're playing them now and at not at the end of last season when they were in top form. But they're still capable of playing a great game."

Valencia were certainly in better form during the second half of last season, when they beat Barcelona and Real Madrid on their way to winning the Spanish Cup and finishing fourth in the league.

They continued in similar vein at the start of this term as they beat Barcelona over two legs to win the Spanish Super Cup and cruised past Hapoel Haifa in their Champions' League qualifier.

But from there it has all been downhill, with Gaizka Mendieta, their stylish midfielder and club captain, and the Argentinian striker Claudio Lopez both struggling for form.

So concerned has Cuper been with the poor start to the season that he invited his players to tell him what was going wrong in an hour-long feedback session after his side's 2-0 home defeat by Alavas at the weekend.

"Was it successful? I won't know until the Rangers match," he said. But it is very important to have dialogue with the players. Of course this is a different competition to the league but the aim is the same and that is to get a victory.

"I have been in this situation before and come out of it well. When I was a club coach in Argentina we lost our first game 5-0 then went on to win the league. I also suffered four successive league defeats at Mallorca but we still finished in a high position.

"You have to be strong whether you win or lose. I have complete confidence in my ability."

Rangers have no such need for group therapy after their flying start to the season, which included an impressive victory over the Uefa Cup holders, Parma, in the qualifying rounds of the Champions' League.

The Dutch international Michael Mols will lead the attack along with Amato - a partnership that should stretch a Valencia defence missing the Frenchman Alain Roche, who has a knee injury.

For Valencia Cuper is set to recall the Italian defender Amadeo Carboni. He missed the qualifying games after being sent off last season against Liverpool in the Uefa Cup. Carboni was involved in a incident with Steve McManaman and Paul Ince, which saw the Anfield pair dismissed as well.

Carboni's disciplinary record is appalling and he missed his side's defeat at the weekend because he was serving a domestic ban. Cuper has told Carboni to calm down but is nevertheless likely to risk him tonight as he is short on numbers in defence. Top of the casualty list is the French defender Jocelyn Angloma could miss out as he suffered slight concussion in the defeat by Alavas.