Smith calls on Rangers to make reputation for themselves

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The Independent Online

Walter Smith has challenged his players to match the expectations of their travelling army of fans as Rangers bid to reach the Uefa Cup semi-finals for the first time tonight.

The Rangers manager knows hopes that his team can go all the way to next month's final in Manchester are rising. Panathinaikos and Werder Bremen have already been beaten against the odds and 90 minutes of football is all that now stands between Rangers and a last-four meeting with Fiorentina or PSV Eindhoven.

Rangers and Sporting Lisbon battled out a goalless draw at Ibrox last week and Smith is keen to see how his team reacts to tonight's pressure meeting in the Jose Alvalade Stadium. He said: "There's a growing expectation from everyone at the club, including the management and the players.

"Hopefully we can match that in terms of the supporters having an expectation. That's something the team has to strive to match. We've got a new squad so we don't really know how we'll react but we have been reacting very well in the competitions that we're in at the present moment and we hope that continues.

"We just have to wait and see. We've no pedigree as a team so we'll have to try to forge one."

Daniel Cousin travelled with the rest of the squad yesterday morning after recovering from a broken jaw sustained against Werder Bremen five weeks ago, and Smith confirmed the striker will have a part to play against Sporting.

"It will be a boost for us having him back," Smith said. "He's played very well in the European games that we've had. He'll obviously be short of match practice. He's been able to keep up his level of fitness but has had no real football in the last four or five weeks. That's a little bit of a problem for us but he will feature in the game."

Also passed fit for the visit to Portugal was PFA Scotland player of the year candidate Carlos Cuellar, who had been rated doubtful after being struck down with flu over the weekend.

He is likely to partner Christian Dailly in the heart of the defence, with the versatile Scotland international set to be asked to play yet another role for Rangers in the absence of the suspended David Weir.

Eyebrows may have been raised when Smith swooped for Dailly in the January transfer window but the Gers manager insists the move is now paying dividends. He said: "One of the reasons we brought Christian in was to cover us in a number of positions and he's done that already this season so he has proved to be a good signing for us."

Smith expects Sporting to offer plenty of threat tomorrow night. He said: "We know them all well enough now and they have players who can cause a team damage from different positions on the field.

"We're well aware of the danger they can cause any team. I think the result in Scotland makes it a very evenly-balanced tie. As we have seen in a lot of games, the away goal is something that is an important factor in settling a lot of the ties when they are as close as the game at Ibrox was.

"We are hopeful we can get goals away from home as we have done in a number of games."

The Rangers midfielder Brahim Hemdani is looking for a repeat of the club's last Portuguese sojourn tonight.

Rangers got the score draw they need tonight in November 2005 when Alex McLeish's side earnt the point they needed against Porto to keep their hopes of Champions League progress alive.

Rangers, struggling domestically at the time, went behind just before the hour mark in the Dragao Stadium but a teenage Ross McCormack, now at Motherwell, came off the bench to smash home an equaliser with seven minutes left.

And Hemdani would settle for a similar 90 minutes tonight. The Algerian international said: "I remember this game very well because it was very important for us to get a good result.

"We had lost to Celtic twice prior to the game in the League Cup and SPL and were 15 points behind them so we had to give the fans a positive result.

"We knew that this would not be easy as they had a lot of quality players such as Diego, who we played against in Bremen, and Quaresma.

"On the night they played a lot of attractive football and we had our backs against the wall for long periods although we defended well. They then scored after an hour through Lopez but could not get another which gave us hope. With 10 minutes left we kept pushing forward and Ross managed to find the net.

"In many ways we can perhaps expect the same kind of game against Sporting and the same result would be perfect for us."

Provisional Rangers squad: McGregor, Papac, Dailly, Broadfoot, Ferguson, Hemdani, Thomson, Darcheville, Cuellar, McCulloch, Davis, Alexander, Boyd, Novo, Burke, Whittaker, Cousin, Naismith.

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