Rangers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
RANGERS' dreams of reaching the European Cup final for the first time were put on hold here last night. Needing to beat Marseille in order to guarantee a date with Milan in Munich on 26 May, they shrugged off the setback of an early goal by Franck Sauzee to level with an exceptional strike by Ian Durrant.
There was no further scoring, which means that Marseille must win against Club Bruges in Belgium on 21 April if they are to reach their second final in three seasons. If victory proves beyond them, Walter Smith's side can go through by defeating CSKA Moscow, the whipping boys in Group A of the Champions' League, in the partisan atmosphere of Ibrox on the same night.
If both clubs win their last fixtures, the outcome will be determined by away goals in the games between them - in which respect Marseille would finish top on the basis of their two goals in Glasgow.
Nevertheless, Smith was in buoyant mood afterwards, saying: 'I think we now have the edge because we will be at home. But it will depend on how Bruges treat their match - whether they are still playing for their pride. We'd have certainly settled for this situation at the start of the season.'
After a day in which temperatures soared into the sticky 70s, the ground was blessed by shade-cooling breezes for the most important match in Rangers' 120-year history. The 1,500 Scottish supporters were mainly crammed into an enclosure built on the old cycle track, and faced a struggle to be heard above the drums of the massed Marseille 'Ultras'.
Rangers' priority was to live up to the motto which adorns their crest - 'Ready' - and survive the opening onslaught to which Marseille traditionally subject visitors. The French champions went into the match on the back of 14 successive home wins in Europe, and claimed a penalty in their first attack.
The Dutch referee ignored Rudi Voller's theatrics, and Rangers settled into a steady rhythm which frustrated Marseille's hopes of dictating the early pace. Then, almost out of nothing, the hosts took the lead after 16 minutes. Rangers' first error - by their left-back David Robertson - allowed Voller to break clear on the right. The German's low cross reached Sauzee two yards inside the penalty area, and his instantaneous right-footed volley clipped Andy Goram's fingertips before nestling in the net.
In the absence of the suspended Mark Hateley, Rangers pushed Durrant forward in support of Ally McCoist. The pairing should have produced an equaliser in the 31st minute, when Pieter Huistra's cross found Durrant unmarked beyond the far post. The situation called for a shot, even though the angle was not ideal, but Durrant elected to pass inside to McCoist. The ball came at waist- height and the striker was off balance, so it was no surprise that he side- footed over from eight yards.
The tension was evident in a flurry of bookings towards half-time, McCoist joining Marcel Desailly, Alen Boksic and Eric Di Meco in the referee's bad books for deliberate handball. The threat to Rangers tended to come from the frighteningly fast Ghanaian forward with a famous name, Abedi Pele, but Sauzee's ability to strike the ball venomously almost put Rangers 2-0 behind after 50 minutes. His free-kick from nearly 25 yards left Goram flat-footed, but it rebounded off the crossbar, and just over a minute later the scores were level.
A corner by Trevor Steven, the former Marseille player, was headed out by Desailly. Durrant, lurking outside the box, volleyed crisply beyond Fabien Barthez; thrilling redemption for his earlier mistake.
Suddenly Scottish voices were raised in raucous anticipation. A hint of desperation entered Marseille's play, and Di Meco was fortunate that the referee chose to punish one late lunge with no more than a free-kick.
Neil Murray, a second-half substitute for the injured Robertson, did not escape Mr van der Ende's notice. He was shown a yellow card for churlishly kicking the ball after a team- mate's foul on Pele. In the 69th minute Pele left Murray floundering, and Rangers were relieved when he snatched excitedly at his shot which flew harmlessly over the bar.
Goram also had to be alert when Pele climbed high to head down a centre from the left flank, catching the ball comfortably by his left-hand upright as Rangers edged towards the draw which keeps them in with a chance of reaching the final.
On the evidence of Rangers' display here last night, in generally intimidating circumstances, they are more than capable of claiming their place in history.
Marseille: Barthez; Angloma, Di Meco, Boli, Sauzee, Desailly, Eydelie, Boksic, Voller, Pele, Deschamps.
Rangers: Goram; McCall, D Robertson (Murray, 53), Gough, McPherson, Brown, Steven, Ferguson, McCoist, Durrant, Huistra (McSwegan, 80).
Referee: M van der Ende (Netherlands).
Ken Jones, page 36Reuse content