Rangers faced a niggly, spoiling Red Star Belgrade at Ibrox at fortnight ago in their Champions League third qualifying round first leg, and all the evidence yesterday suggested the Serbians' tactics in the return tonight, which Rangers will start with a 1-0 advantage, will be underpinned by wind-up.
The Marakana stadium, expected to be full to its 54,000 capacity, can be a hostile place at the best of times, and the Red Star Belgrade coach, Milorad Kosanovic, turned up the pre-match heat by accusing Rangers' Jean-Claude Darcheville of deliberately provoking his players two weeks ago.
"Darcheville showed us in the first leg that some small provocation can be expected in these clashes," said Kosanovic with no trace of irony. Seven of his players were booked at Ibrox, and no Rangers players. "Only with a smart and calm performance can we cut the deficit and then strike for the victory," Kosanovic added.
Red Star, winners of the European Cup in 1991, have never reached the group stages of the tournament since it was revamped in 1992-93. "We can win, we can go through," said Kosanovic, "but only if we stay focused from the first to the last minute."
His counterpart, Walter Smith, who knows the difference between winning and losing on aggregate will be £10m in the coffers, echoed the need for calm heads among his own side. "It will be our toughest game of the season so far... we have to show we can handle that."
A goalless draw would see Rangers through, and while nobody in the Glasgow contingent would admit aiming for a stalemate, Smith knows a good defensive performance could be pivotal. Rangers have won all seven matches this season, three in Europe. They did not concede a goal in the first five, the last of those against Red Star.
"We have confidence in our defence," Smith said. "We know in the circumstances of the game, especially the latter stages, if it's close then we may have to withstand a little bit of pressure if the score continues as it is at the present."
Rangers' Gabonese striker, Daniel Cousin, who was injured at the weekend, travelled with the squad yesterday and could yet play some role, depending on further tests.
Rangers (possible 4-2-3-1): McGregor; Hutton, Weir, Cuellar, Papac; Hemdani, Thomson; McCulloch, Ferguson, Beasley; Darcheville or Boyd.Reuse content