Football: Rangers need ingenuity to upset Parma

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The Independent Online
BARRY FERGUSON discovered the hard way last season that a reputation is not always a good thing. Tonight the Rangers playmaker will stay in the background, hopeful that his sacrifice can help Rangers claim a centre- stage place among Europe's elite.

The 20-year-old midfielder found himself little more than an extra last season when Parma knocked Rangers out of the Uefa Cup. Ferguson's name had preceded him, earning not just plaudits but suffocating attention, however a repeat encounter between the clubs in the Champions' League third qualifying round first-leg tie gives the Scotland international a chance to get his lines right.

"I never got much room," smiled the player yesterday at a press conference at Ibrox Stadium ahead of tonight's first leg. "Hopefully it has made me a better player and I have learned from the experience."

The Italian lesson was not one Ferguson enjoyed. Snuffed out in Glasgow, he took heavy criticism for the goal in Parma which dragged the eventual Uefa Cup winners back into a tie that was slipping away from them.

It was a far cry from the attention heaped on the young player who had taken over the role previously occupied by Paul Gascoigne with such flair that Christophe Daum, coach of Bayer Leverkusen, declared Ferguson to be worth pounds 15 million after he had prompted the Germans' removal from the Uefa Cup in an earlier round.

Ferguson says he is now revelling in a new, less obtrusive role given to him by his coach Dick Advocaat, even if others grab the glory. "We have switched from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 and that has given me more space," he said. "I have been told to play a holding position and allow the others, such as Claudio Reyna, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Jorg Albertz to go forward and have shots at goal. I am just their skivvy," he smiled.

However, the more withdrawn role could allow Ferguson greater influence and the player concedes that the arrival of the Dutch striker Michael Mols has opened up a new outlet for Rangers. "Michael's movement up front is unbelievable and it makes the midfielders' job easier to hit him with passes."

Rangers are going to have to show ingenuity tonight if they want to do better than the 1-1 draw from the home leg last season which ultimately cut down their ambitions. "Parma have changed a lot since then," said Advocaat yesterday. "They have new players and a new system. They were quite open when they came here last season, but this time I expect them to sit in."

While Rangers' main doubt is over Neil McCann, Parma will be without their recent pounds 22m signing, the Brazilian striker Amoroso, but Argentina's Ariel Ortega - a pounds 13m buy from Sampdoria - will play up front.

The Parma coach Alberto Malesani is approaching the game with a degree of confidence even though a number of his key players are sidelined. As well as the Brazilian, Hernan Crespo is also out while Mario Stanic and Diego Fuser are doubtful. But Malesani said: "I think people will see our team are very strong. They work well and work hard together. Our technique is such that I feel my players can play with their eyes closed, they are so used to the system.

"I accept that we may have a problem getting a good result as Rangers have started their season and will probably be fitter and stronger than us. But I think in matches like this, if you have the will to play and the motivation, then you have a good chance of succeeding.

Parma arrived in Glasgow today without their influential French defender Faliou Lassissi. The former Sampdoria player has remained at home on advice from the club doctor to nurse a sore throat and high temperature. He is expected to be replaced by Luigi Sartor for the third qualifying round first-leg match.

RANGERS probable (4-3-3) : Klos; Porrini, Moore, Amoruso, Vidmar; Reyna, Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst; R Wallace, Mols, Albertz.