Football: Rangers fired up for Europe

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The Independent Online
Rangers will take collective responsibility for their European future tonight when the highly-rated Russian side, Alania Vladikavkaz visit Ibrox.

The preliminary round of the European Cup represents a familiar hurdle to the Scottish champions and it is one they have tripped over before, failing to qualify for the league stages in two out of their four attempts. The Russians will not be treated lightly by Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, or his players, yet there is a belief hardened by Saturday's 3-0 win over Arsenal that Rangers are ready for their first competitive match of the season.

Two key decisions will have to be made by Smith: who replaces the suspended Paul Gascoigne in midfield and whether Trevor Steven or Alex Cleland fills the right-side midfield position. The former job is likely to be entrusted to Derek McInnes, who arrived from Morton last season, while Cleland could be preferred to Steven, who has played just two games in the build up.

Smith has other injury problems, with Alan McLaren, David Robertson and Craig Moore all missing tonight's game; but Ally McCoist and Richard Gough should both recover from slight knock.

Rangers' chances have been improved with the abolition of the three-foreigner rule in European football. "It takes away some of the pressure not to have Scottish players injured," Smith said. "Having no restrictions will help us as we cut down on our squad because of the ruling."

"We are as ready as we can be for this game, which is very important as it is our first competitive match of the season," Smith added. "The only people who can answer the wee bit of doubt that remains are the people on the park."

One of Rangers' two major summer signings, the pounds 2.6m Swedish defender Joachim Bjorklund, anticipates a tough time for the Scottish champions against Vladikavkaz. "We know it will be hard as they are a good side and are in the middle of their season. But we are getting things right here," he said.