Football: Smith delivers his final instructions for eager Rangers: The Ibrox wall of sound awaits the makeweights of CSKA Moscow tonight

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The Independent Online
HOWEVER anxious he may be about the outcome of events tonight when his side play CSKA Moscow in the European Champions' League, Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, showed few signs of nerves as he looked ahead to one of the most important nights in his club's history.

The Ibrox club have the chance to reach their first European Cup final, and although their fate depends on events elsewhere the Scottish champions have a clear vision of their immediate task. 'We must set out to win or events in Bruges will be irrelevant,' Smith said.

The situation is summed up simply thus: to make the final against Milan in Munich on 26 May, Rangers must finish ahead of Marseille. Both are level on seven points and if they remain level after tonight's games, the previous results between the two clubs will be taken into account, taking Marseille through because of their two goals scored at Ibrox.

Rangers, then, must beat the Russians and hope Bruges can take at least a point from their game with Marseille. The Belgians, however, have injury problems, with the midfielders Frankie van der Elst (thigh) and Lorenzo Staelens (ankle) breaking down in training yesterday.

Smith has been heartened by the return from injury of David Robertson, his left-back, and Trevor Steven, the England midfielder who is in the England squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifier againstthe Netherlands. The manager kept his own counsel yesterday on the identity of his starting XI, but he did admit that the midfield area would be crucial to the day's outcome.

'The Russians have good players in that area - they retain possession and create their build-up through the middle, so we will have to stop them there and at the same time try to get forward ourselves.'

Mark Hateley will again be absent through suspension, leaving Smith with the task of choosing a striking partner for Ally McCoist. Ian Durrant performed admirably in that position against Marseille, although Gary McSwegan underlined his challenge with two goals against Partick at the weekend. Strangely, McCoist himself has yet to score in the Champions' League, despite hitting over 50 goals in all other competitions this season.

Whoever is charged with the task of shouldering Ibrox's expectations, the Rangers players have become increasingly aware of the importance of the occasion, as summed up by Trevor Steven when he said: 'This series of matches is the biggest any of us will be involved in at club level. We will be totally focused as a team towards winning two points.'

The Russian champions are looking for an encouraging finale to a disappointing campaign, and declared themselves delighted at the absence of Hateley. Their coach, Gennady Kostilev, admitted as much and also revealed a haphazard approach to the game, in marked contrast to Rangers' meticulous build-up.

'Hateley caused us a lot of problems in the first game and in his absence our defence will have to sort things out as the game goes on. We will have to cope with whoever plays in attack,' he said.

The Russians have a young side which has grown stronger with the experience of the Champions' League, but they will be handicapped by the loss through injury of Vasily Ivanov and Alexander Grishin, who would both have featured in the midfield.

A sell-out crowd of 45,000 could unnerve the Russians, and through the power of radio the Rangers players will surely be kept aware of events in Bruges.

Jean-Pierre Papin will miss Milan's final Champions' League game against PSV Eindhoven tonight, and the European Cup final next month. The French international will be out for six weeks after injuring thigh ligaments in training last week.