AEK Athens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
(AEK Athens win 3-0 on aggregate)
FOR YEARS, Scottish clubs have fallen victim to more skilful and assured European sides. Lessons have been frequently given but never learned, it seems. Pride and passion, the two weapons commonly used to carry fiery Scottish sides to victory, are no longer sufficent in the face of superior skills such as those faced by Rangers.
There will be no Champions' League place after a 3-0 aggregate defeat, and none was deserved by a side which can dominate at home but is swallowed up in the larger pool.
Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, had asked his fans to give the Greeks as hostile a reception as the Scots had received two weeks earlier, and Ibrox was a seething animal ready to put the bite on the Greeks for the first 15 minutes.
But the Greeks calmly withstood ineffective early pressure, which saw Duncan Ferguson and Mark Hateley guilty on several occasions of going for the same ball. The storm weathered, AEK attacked with frightening pace and crispness of passing which exposed the Rangers defence sufficiently to suggest they were capable of repeating their 2-0 first-leg win.
The fears of the Rangers fans were realised in the 43rd minute, when the Greeks took the lead. David Robertson was careless with a crossfield pass and the ball ran to Vassilis Tsartas, whose threaded pass to Toni Savevski was swept past Andy Goram.
The Rangers goalkeeper had earlier come to the rescue with a vital save from Savevski with his defenders stranded. And, after 16 minutes, Christos Kostis shot over from an angle. Ian Ferguson was forced into a saving tackle after his defence had been filleted, and from the resultant corner a near- post deflection allowed the Rangers defence to clear.
Rangers looked increasingly for inspiration to Brian Laudrup, but the five-man Athens defence refused to be dazzled by the Dane's trickery on both flanks. The space in front of the Greek goalkeeper was so densely populated it took Rangers more than 30 minutes to clear the space for a direct shot on goal.
Four minutes before the interval, Rangers should have conceded another goal when Kostis beat Goram to a long ball. But he slipped on the wet turf while rounding the goalkeeper and missed the chance. Even so, Rangers' hopes of further progress in the competition were effectively over by half-time.
Hoping against hope that they could score four goals, Rangers restarted with renewed vigour and created early opportunities. However, Hateley was guilty of gross carelessness by shooting wide from a Stuart McCall pass.
Richard Gough had a shot blocked, but as Rangers battered their way forward they had no answer to the smooth passing of the Greeks.
Smith agreed that his side did not deserve to win. He admitted that playing high balls to Hateley and Duncan Ferguson 'became predictable' and said: 'We never really did enough in terms of creating opportunities to score. It is strange to be out of Europe when the League season has hardly begun.'
Rangers: (4-4-2): Goram; Boli, Gough, McPherson, Robertson; Laudrup, Durie (Durrant, 63), I Ferguson, McCall; D Ferguson, Hateley.
AEK Athens (5-3-2): Atmatsidis; Agorogiannis, Vlachos, Papadopoulos, Manolas, Kassapis; Sabanantzovic, Savevski (Stamatis, 75), Saravakos; Kostis, Tsartas (Kopitsis, 85).
Referee: L Sundell (Swe).
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