Football: Rangers must accentuate the positive: Scottish champions ponder attacking options for winner-takes-all pursuit of place in the European Cup final

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The Independent Online
THERE is a question which Walter Smith, Rangers' manager, admits he has often asked himself: can an electrician from Carmyle, on Glasgow's eastern fringes, really take a team to the European Cup final? Tonight, in the white-hot atmosphere of the Stade Velodrome, he will almost certainly have his answer.

Rangers go into their penultimate Champions' League fixture, against Marseille, in the knowledge that victory will guarantee their place in the final of the premier competition for the first time - regardless of what happens in the last group games a fortnight hence. Intriguingly, the winner-takes-all scenario applies equally to Marseille, while parity would make the French champions favourites to proceed to Munich's Olympic Stadium on 29 May.

Under Uefa rules, if two sides are level on points at the top of their section, results in the matches between them decides who goes through. Since Marseille drew 2-2 at Ibrox Rangers would require at least a 3-3 scoreline in order to progress.

Of all the Scottish clubs who have reached European finals - namely Rangers and Celtic (twice each), Aberdeen and Dundee United - none faced a final hurdle as tough as this. Marseille contested the Cup itself against Red Star Belgrade in 1991, albeit unsuccessfully, whereas Smith can call on only one player with experience of a European final.

Trevor Steven, a member of the Everton team who won the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1985, has a better idea than most what to expect, having endured an ill-starred season with Marseille before returning to Rangers last summer. 'There's no point in going out and trying to defend against them,' Steven said. 'They've got too many good attacking players who would relish us sitting back.

'We must be positive and go for it, which is our natural game. Despite our poor performance at Ibrox, I know they respect us and are prepared for a long 90 minutes. I've a funny feeling it won't be settled until the last five minutes or so.'

Not that Smith, his attacking options limited by Mark Hateley's suspension, will be adopting a cavalier approach. He is likely to start with a 4-5-1 formation, flooding midfield and deputing Ian Durrant to break in support of Ally McCoist.

Nor will Rangers' defenders be asked to change their zonal system in favour of man-marking. As Smith pointed out, after listing the awesome strike force of Croatia's Alen Boksic, Germany's Rudi Voller and Ghana's Abedi Pele available to Marseille, where would they start?

Raymond Goethals, the hosts' 71- year-old Belgian coach, is threatening to retire at the end of the season, when several of his squad are likely to join Italian clubs. He is widely quoted here as saying the present team is 'too weak' to make it worth his continuing, but Rangers will take that with a pinch of garlic.

They are aware that Marseille, like themselves, are on course for a fifth successive domestic title; that they tend to get their retaliation in first, having scored inside six minutes at home to Glentoran, Club Bruges and CSKA Moscow already this season; and that in Boksic, who has six goals to his name in the tournament, they possess a finisher for whom Juventus have reportedly offered a pounds 12m package which includes David Platt.

Rangers, who will test the fitness of Pieter Huistra and Ian Ferguson today, trained beneath the sinking Mediterranean sun yesterday evening. The fatigue evident in Saturday's defeat of Hearts may yet undermine them, but Smith is confident that the stimulus of standing on the threshold of history will compensate.

Milan's task, page 36

(Photograph omitted)

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