Champions' League preview: Weir desperate to put Catalans among pigeons

Veteran defender insists Rangers have self-belief to succeed in Nou Camp
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The Independent Football

The Nou Camp holds a special place in the history of Rangers, even if the feeling is not quite mutual. Pride of place in Ibrox's huge trophy room is a replica of the Cup-Winners' Cup that was won in Europe's most celebrated arena 35 years ago. The only evidence of that night to be found for the thousands who enjoy Barcelona's stadium tour is the pictures of Rangers supporters fighting with General Franco's police force.

The mayhem that ensued after Rangers defeatedDynamo Moscow 3-2 in the 1972 final robbed Rangers' captain, John Greig, and his team of the chance to defend their trophy. The Glasgow club were punished for the action of their fans – who invaded the pitch – with a year's suspension. On Wednesday, the Catalan city will witness another invasion, as up to 20,000 Rangers fans come in search of modern glory.

It is remarkable to think that the paths of Rangers and Barcelona never crossed until two weeks ago, when Frank Rijkaard brought his side to Ibrox and drew 0-0 to leave them in joint leadership of Champions' League Group E with Walter Smith's team. Rangers can trace their lengthy European roots back to 1956, and have faced all sorts of Spanish opposition – including the celebrated 1960 European Cup winners, the Real Madrid of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas – and, more recently, Villarreal, who spoiled the dream of reaching the last eight of the Champions' League in 2006 by virtue of goal difference. But Barça? Nada.

It would not be overstating the case to say that Smith's players are desperate to walk out on to the Nou Camp pitch on Wednesday night. But not as tourists. Having beaten Lyon away and VfB Stuttgart at home, they now have huge self-belief, and know that their stock abroad is soaring. "I am not surprised by Rangers," insists Rijkaard. "They are a strong team. Scottish football has been doing well recently, with good results from the national team and results from Rangers and Celtic in the Champions' League. I don't like to single out players, because it creates stories about Barcelona being interested in buying them, but I have to say that I like Barry Ferguson. He represents the spirit of Rangers. He has played with them for a long time and is a good, technical player, who reads the game well."

If Ferguson is the obvious choice for Spanish eyes, David Weir is surely the eye-opener. At 37, the defender has enjoyed such a renaissance since moving from Everton last January that he is making a mockery of his age. Weir led Rangers' resistance to Ronaldinho and Co at Ibrox with the same purpose that saw him help Scotland to that famous Euro 2008 win over France in Paris and then Rangers to a 3-0 rout of Lyon in the Stade Gerland.

Weir admits that he feels like pinching himself. "At my age, you want to be playing every week," he said. "I had a spell latterly with Everton when I was not playing as much as I would like, but that is football. At big clubs, especially in the Premiership, they have big squads and managers rotate players. Players want to be involved every week, that is the be-all and end-all as a professional.

"I have always tried to live for the minutes in football. I would never try to wish it away. As you get older, you realise that you have to enjoy the minute. You are only as good as your last game. You do not get much time to enjoy the result, even games like the ones in Paris or Lyon. There is no downtime for players who play international football and for clubs who have European commitments. That is the nature of playing for a club like Rangers."

Celtic would endorse Weir's words. Gordon Strachan's key players put in so much effort for club and country over the past two months that Scott Brown, Paul Hartley and Gary Caldwell all incurred injuries. Celtic looked jaded when they lost in the Old Firm derby at Ibrox a fortnight ago, yet somehow found the energy to deliver a tireless performance four days later in Lisbon that deserved better than to see Oscar Cardozo's late winner steal victory for Benfica.

The Portuguese side come to Celtic Park on Tuesday, and the 60,000 sell-out crowd will hope that Strachan's side can summon up a repeat of the 3-0 success they enjoyed there against Benfica in last season's competition to enhance their prospects in Group D. Strachan will adopt a far more offensive approach than he did in Lisbon, when he used Chris Killen as a lone striker,leaving an exhausted Scott McDonald on the bench.

"It was a hard shift," said Killen. "It is tough, mentallyas much as physically, playing on your own. It was heartbreaking to come so close to taking a point and then losing a late goal. A point would have been massive for us, but we will just have to put that right when we play Benfica in Glasgow."

This week's games, by Steve Tongue



Oscar Cardozo's late winning goal for Benfica (who have 3pts) two weeks ago continued a dreadful run of away form for Celtic (3pts) and sent them tumbling to the foot of the table. But with Milan and Shakhtar both on 6pts, the position is not irretrievable.


"Can Rafa survive?" asked one tabloid after the defeat of Liverpool (1pt) in Istanbul. They will not survive in Group A without winning the return leg against Besiktas (3pts) and probably their last two games, against Porto (5pts) and Marseille (7pts), too.


With Avram Grant on a roll, even a draw against Schalke (3pts) will keep Chelsea (7pts) on top of the table as the only unbeaten side in Group B. The German club had their moments at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago but they missed their striker Kevin Kuranyi.



With a huge percentage of possession for an away side, Barcelona (7pts) felt they were entitled to far more than a goalless draw at Ibrox. Rangers (7pts) can expect less mercy at the Nou Camp but will still be well placed ahead of Lyon (3pts) and Stuttgart (0pts).


Comfortable winners in Kiev (0pts), United (9pts) should continue their dominance of Group F even with recent injuries depleting their midfield. Whatever happens between Sporting Lisbon (3pts) and Roma (6pts), United would effectively be through to the knockout stages with a win.


Like United, Arsenal (9pts) have won all three games to date, and the manner of their 7-0 victory at home to Slavia (3pts) two weeks ago is likely to have given the Czech side nightmares. Seville (6pts) remain the only threat even without Juande Ramos in charge.