Football: Rangers ride high on old-fashioned bulldog spirit: Joe Lovejoy on the Scottish champions' remarkable progress in Europe's premier competition

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The Independent Online
SOME will call it a nightmare, but Mark Hateley has a recurring dream in which Rangers play his old club, Milan, in the European Cup final. There is more. The striker England forgot thinks the dream is about to come true - and genuinely believes the Scottish champions could win.

Barking mad? Perhaps not. The fantasy may yet become fact, the first part anyway. Group A in the Champions League, which determines the finalists, was thrown wide open by two 1-1 draws on Wednesday, when a good result for Rangers became an excellent one in the light of Marseille's failure to beat CSKA Moscow. France's finest and the best club side Scotland has produced for many a year are left with four points apiece from three games, and the likelihood that it will be six each after the respective home legs in two weeks' time.

Assuming that Rangers beat Bruges at Ibrox, as they should, and Marseille see off CSKA in the Stade Velodrome, it could go right down to the wire, and the last of the round-robin matches, on 21 April.

A draw in the penultimate game, which takes the Scots to the south of France on 7 April, would set it up nicely. In that event, Rangers would take over as favourites, with much the easier task in the last double-header, where they are at home to Moscow's also-rans while Marseille travel to Bruges.

As things stand, the odds still favour the French, but that the Scots should be in with a shout at all is remarkable, after their unpromising start to the series. Only the most one-eyed of loyalists can have given them a prayer when they went 2-0 down at home to Marseille first time out.

Outplayed on their own pitch, they fought back to draw 2-2 through sheer guts and never-say-die determination.

That recovery seems to have done them a power of good. Tentative at the outset, they have grown in confidence with each game, and on Wednesday it took two memorable saves by Dany Verlinden to deny them what would have been a deserved victory.

Again, bullish spirit was at the root of a comeback which saw Pieter Huistra equalise Tomasz Dziubinski's first-half goal. Rangers were without half a team, all injured, but that clannish pride in the famous blue jersey had the remnants rising to the occasion, and waxing stronger the longer the match went on.

Forty games unbeaten, they were tougher, mentally as well as physically, as the Bruges manager, Hugo Broos, admitted. Like so many other Continental coaches, Broos is an admirer of the traditional characteristics of British football, and would like to see more of our stamina and fortitude in his own charges.

Less studying of the navel and more puffing out of the chest would be in order, or so Broos of Bruges seemed to be saying.

It is an interesting point, worthy of renewed debate. The failure of English clubs in Europe this season brought back all the old, familiar angst, yet Rangers are profiting by the very same methods derided as outmoded and unsophisticated south of the border.

Hateley, the classic British centre- forward, and Stuart McCall, an Alan Ball clone, were the two players Bruges admired most. Power in the air, and over the ground, will still trouble all but the very best, it seems.

There lies the nub. Bruges, 12 points off the pace in the Belgian league, are not among the very best. Neither are CSKA, and neither were Leeds. Marseille, or better still Milan, are the yardstick by which Rangers, and the British game they represent, should be judged.

For Hateley's dream to come true would be a vindication of time-honoured Anglo-Saxon methods. It would change nothing, and contribute nothing by way of innovation, but when it is done properly, there is still something to be said for the bulldog spirit and good old 4-4-2.

Politically incorrect, it needed a Belgian coach to say it.