Madjid Bougherra will return to Rangers' starting line-up in the Champions League at Ibrox tonight as they try to put their European campaign back on track against Unirea Urziceni, a team from the smallest town ever to have a club in the group stages. Bougherra provoked the ire of his manager, Walter Smith, by going absent last week on his return from international duty with Algeria. Smith has since accepted the centre-half's explanation that his passport was stolen in Paris while on the way back to Glasgow.
"I spoke to him and accepted his explanation," Smith said, adding he was "pleased" Bougherra was back, as well he might be. The defender has scored Rangers' only meaningful Champions League goal so far this season, to earn a Group G draw in Stuttgart. In their other game, Rangers lost 4-1 at home to Seville, the late consolation scored by Nacho Novo after four second-half goals from the Spanish team.
Two wins against today's Romanian opponents in the upcoming double-header would propel Rangers back into contention. Smith said yesterday that he will be looking for the kind of form produced "for an hour against Stuttgart and also the first hour of the game against Seville. Hopefully we can take the good parts from the European games we have had and take them into [tonight's] game."
Unirea are managed by the former Chelsea player, Dan Petrescu, who steered them to an unlikely Romanian league title last season. They hail from a town of 17,000 people, less than half the size of Thun in Switzerland, the smallest previous settlement to send a club to the group stages of the Champions League.
Petrescu spoke this weekend of the struggle to win the title, and how it had only been achieved after a crackdown on corrupt officials and referees, a number of whom have been arrested in an ongoing purge to cleanse Romanian football.
"If we had been drawn against Steaua Bucharest, for instance, we would have imagined an extremely tough task," Smith said. "Unirea beat them to the championship last season and, if anything, this season they will put an emphasis on the Champions League. That's what makes them very dangerous from our point of view."
Rangers (possible): McGregor; Whittaker, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; Davis, McCulloch, Thomson, Rothen; Novo, Miller.
Unirea Urziceni (possible): Arlauskis; Maftei, Galamaz, Mehmedovic, Brandan; Apostol; Varga, Vilana, Balan, Frunza; Bilasco.
Referee: E Braamhaar (Netherlands).