Football: Rangers look to McCoist

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The Independent Online
IT still all points to a Milan-Marseille final, but disregard brings out the best in Rangers, as any Tyke will tell you, and victory over Bruges tonight would see the flower of Scotland in early bloom at a time when the European Cup's mini-leagues are starting to take shape.

The Scottish champions were fortunate to draw 2-2 at home to France's finest in their first game in the round-robin stage, but they were convincing enough in beating CSKA Moscow 1-0 in neutral Bochum, and go into what is a crucial third match in rampant form.

Saturday's 2-1 victory over Hearts extended their unbeaten sequence to 39 games - a club record - and the confidence engendered by such a run keeps them resolutely optimistic, despite a debilitating spate of injuries.

Two international defenders, Richard Gough and Gary Stevens, were not fit enough to make the trip, and Ian Ferguson's back trouble removed him from the midfield last night, when Dale Gordon's availability was left in doubt after he damaged a calf in training. Three other regulars - John Brown, Trevor Steven and Ian Durrant - are all receiving treatment and Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, is forced to delay selection until lunchtime today.

Are they downhearted? Not at all. Nor should they be. The Belgians remain a powerful force on the international stage, and are dominating World Cup Group Four, but their club football is at a low ebb, and Bruges have fallen away so badly in recent weeks that they now stand a poor fourth in the league, a discouraging 12 points behind the leaders, Anderlecht.

In a city renowned for its lace- making, they prefer to draw a veil over the events of last weekend, when the champions could manage only a 3-3 draw with bottom- of-the-table Lommel - and this after the backmarkers had lost two men, sent off.

Encouraging stuff for Rangers and Smith, who expects Brown to be fit enough to play tonight, but must be more perturbed than he is letting on about the loss of the combative Ferguson, who scored the winning goal against CSKA.

'Always look on the bright side' was Smith's text for the day. Yes, he had problems, but it was not all doom and gloom, he said. 'Bruges have got two players injured (Lazlo Diztl and Pascale Plovie) and one suspended (Stefan Van Der Heyden), so they won't be at full strength, either.

Rangers are playing down the significance of their casualties, but make no bones about the importance of the match. 'I think our two games against Bruges will determine how both teams are going to fare in the Champions' League,' Smith said. 'If we were to win one each, it would let in Marseille. No disrespect to the Russians, but I can't see Marseille losing to CSKA, so the onus is on us.'

A draw here might not be enough, but it would leave Rangers still in with a fighting chance, while effectively killing Bruges's chances of emulating their class of '78, who reached the final, only to lose 1-0 to Liverpool.

As ever, the Scots will be looking to Ally McCoist to score goals and Andy Goram to stop them. No striker in Britain can approach the 46 McCoist has tucked away in all competitions this season, and Goram has been parsimony personified. Smith said: 'Alastair's success has lifted the whole team, and if the chances fall to him here, we'll be all right.'

Bruges struggled to beat Austria Vienna on the away-goals rule to claim their place in the last eight, where they owe their two points to a 1-0 win against the group's also-rans, CSKA. When they came up against Marseille, and real quality, they were comprehensively defeated, 3-0.

The indications are that the conditions could be more difficult for Rangers than the opposition. The weather is freezing and the welcome sure to be even more inhospitable from a fiercely partisan set of fans whose misbehaviour in Marseille nearly had tonight's game played behind closed doors.

After 90 minutes, Rangers may well wish it had been, but they should get the draw they need to keep The Dream alive.

Club Bruges (probable): Verlinden; Creve, Querter, Staelens, Borkelmans, Verheyen, Okon, Van der Elst, Booy, Amokachi, Diztl.

Rangers (probable): Goram; Nisbet, Brown, McPherson, Robertson, McCall, Murray, Durrant, Gordon, Hateley, McCoist.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE TO DATE ----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP A ----------------------------------------------------------------- Club Bruges (1). . . . .1 CSKA Moscow (0). . . . . 0 Amokachi 17 21,500 Rangers (0). . . . . . .2 Marseille (1). . . . . . 2 McSwegan 76 Boksic 31 Hateley 82 Voller 5741,624 Marseille (3). . . . . .3 Club Bruges (0). . . . . 0 Sauzee pen 4 30,000 Boksic 10, 26 CSKA Moscow (0). . . . .0 Rangers (1). . . . . . . 1 9,000 Ferguson 13 (at Ruhrstadion, Bochum) ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Marseille . . . . . . . . . . 2 1 1 0 5 2 3 Rangers . . . . . . . . . . . 2 1 1 0 3 2 3 Club Bruges . . . . . . . . . 2 1 0 1 1 3 2 CSKA Moscow . . . . . . . . . 2 0 0 2 0 2 0 ----------------------------------------------------------------- REMAINING FIXTURES ----------------------------------------------------------------- Today CSKA Moscow v Marseille (at Olympiastadion, Berlin); Club Bruges v Rangers. 17 March Marseille v CSKA Moscow; Rangers v Club Bruges. 7 April CSKA Moscow v Club Bruges (at Olympiastadion, Berlin); Marseille v Rangers. 21 April Club Bruges v Marseille; Rangers v CSKA Moscow.

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP B ----------------------------------------------------------------- Porto (1) . . . . . . . .2 PSV Eindhoven (1) . . . . .2 Jaime Magalhaes 35 Romario 43, 60 Jose Carlos 75 50,000 Milan (1) . . . . . . . .4 IFK Gothenburg (0) . . . . 0 Van Basten 33, pen 53 61,000 61, 62 IFK Gothenburg (0). . . .1 Porto (0). . . . . . . . . 0 Eriksson 87 22,303 PSV Eindhoven (0) . . . .1 Milan (1). . . . . . . . . 2 Romario 66 Rijkaard 19 27,000 Simone 62 ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Milan . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 2 0 0 6 1 4 IFK Gothenburg . . . . . . . 2 1 0 1 1 4 2 PSV Eindhoven . . . . . . . . 2 0 1 1 3 4 1 Porto . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 0 1 1 2 3 1 ----------------------------------------------------------------- REMAINING FIXTURES ----------------------------------------------------------------- Today PSV Eindhoven v IFK Gothenburg; Porto v Milan. 17 March IFK Gothenburg v PSV Eindhoven; Milan v Porto. 7 April PSV Eindhoven v Porto; IFK Gothenburg v Milan. 21 April Porto v IFK Gothenburg; Milan v PSV Eindhoven. FINAL 26 May (venue to be arranged). -----------------------------------------------------------------

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