Ferguson backs Cousin to beat controversy and reward Rangers

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The Independent Football

There are more tactful ways to bond with your team-mates than label them "out-of-shape bevvy merchants" in an interview with a national newspaper in which you also suggest you would rather be playing in a better league, but at least nobody can accuse Rangers' Gabonese international striker, Daniel Cousin, of timidity.

As the Glasgow club face a make-or-break Champions League match against Lyons at Ibrox this evening, the 30-year-old forward, who is almost certain to start alone up front, will need every ounce of guile and power he can muster to help secure the single point Rangers need against the French champions to send them through to the knockout stages.

Cousin's weekend interview with a French newspaper threatened to disrupt the build-up. He was quoted as saying, among other things: "The Scottish players like a good drink. I see them going out and having one after another. What's more they put their beer in big glasses... there are chips and pizzas in the dressing room at the end of a match, plus cola and ketchup. Once now and again is fine, but they do it all the time."

The forward, who only moved from Lens in the summer, for 1m, also added: "This championship [the SPL] is not really terrific... I'd like to play in England. The football is of better quality."

Cousin reportedly has a release clause that would allow a move next summer if another club offered 3m but for now his mind is on the job in hand. By yesterday, he was insisting his comments had been misconstrued, and his team-mates have accepted that. "His word is good enough for all the boys at the club," said the Rangers captain, Barry Ferguson.

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, has no new fitness worries although he will be without three attacking players in Jean-Claude Darcheville, Nacho Novo and DaMarcus Beasley, all injured. Brahim Hemdani, a specialist holding midfielder who rarely plays domestic games, is expected to play a key role in trying to thwart visitors intent on progressing at the expense of their hosts. A win for Lyons would see them through, not Rangers, along with Barcelona from Group E.

Rangers upset form to win the reverse fixture 3-0 and Lyons' chairman, Jean-Michel Aulus, claims his side will be underdogs tonight. "Rangers can rely on tremendous support," he said. His coach, Alain Perrin, will reinstate major figures including Brazil's Juninho and France's Karim Benzema to the starting line-up after a shock domestic loss to Caen, 1-0, on Saturday.

Ferguson expects Cousin, who scored in the away leg, to be prominent again today. "He was a big player in Lyons, he scored a fantastic goal and set up one as well," he said. "He'll be a big player for us."

If Rangers manage to secure the point they need, it would mean both Old Firm sides being in the last 16 together for the first time, and also be the first time that both have been in Europe after Christmas for more than 30 years, Celtic having qualified last week.

"It would be great," Ferguson said. "We know it's a difficult task but all the boys will be right up for the game and with the fans behind us, a 52,000-sell-out, I'm sure they can roar us on to get the three points.

"At the start of the group campaign, nobody gave us a chance of even getting a Uefa Cup spot so the pressure is on Lyons. We will just go out and enjoy it and hopefully get the win."

Smith's men are undefeated in their last 14 in Uefa competition at Ibrox but the manager admits they have now lost the element of surprise which helped them take seven points from their opening three group matches against Stuttgart, Lyons and Barcelona. "The home record is a statistic which we hope we can keep up," said the Rangers coach. "In the earlier part of the round, we maybe caught teams a little bit cold. I don't think they would have expected Rangers to be in this position at the start.

"Lyons have got good players. Their pride was a little bit dented in the first game, by losing 3-0 at home, so they will be well-prepared for this one and will have a far greater level of motivation. Although we have got a really good home record, it will still have to be an exceptional performance from us to progress."

He added: "They had a new coach and some new players at the start of the season, and sometimes, when that happens, you get some indifferent results.

"Our result over there was maybe a catalyst for them in the sense that it made them concentrate, and they seem to have settled down a little bit."

Rangers (probable, 4-1-4-1): McGregor; Hutton, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Hemdani; Adam, Ferguson, Thomson, McCulloch; Cousin.

Lyons (possible, 4-3-3): Vercoutre; Clerc, Squillaci, Bodmer, Grosso; Toulalan, Juninho, Kallstrom; Govou, Ben Arfa, Benzema.

Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).

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