Stuttgart 3 Rangers 2: Marica leaves Rangers with point to prove

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The Independent Football

Rangers manager Walter Smith has called for one last push from his players as they bid to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. A 3-2 defeat here in Stuttgart last night – earning the German side their first points in the tournament so far – means at least a draw is required against Lyons in the final group match at Ibrox on 12 December.

Rangers defeated the French champions away from home earlier in the competition and now need to secure at least a point to ensure they remain in Europe's top club competition beyond Christmas.

The last time Rangers reached the last 16 was during Alex McLeish's reign and Smith urged his players to replicate some of their earlier performances from this campaign in order to cross the finish line.

"We had hoped for a different outcome tonight but we have a big match to look forward to at Ibrox now," said the Rangers manager.

"If we show the endeavour we have shown throughout this campaign, then I will be pleased."

Rangers took the lead through Charlie Adam before Cacau hauled Stuttgart back into the game. The Bundesliga champions then went ahead thanks to Pavel Pardo's strike that was cancelled out by Barry Ferguson.

However, Smith's men were sent back to Glasgow empty-handed when Ciprian Marica snatched the winner late on. But Smith insisted: "The point didn't matter to us – in the end a draw wouldn't have made a difference."

He added: "We are obviously disappointed to lose the game. I felt we lost a bad goal just before half-time and Stuttgart started the second half strongly and got in front.

"Credit to our boys for getting the equaliser. We had to go for the win at the end and we lost another goal. It was disappointing to lose the game overall."

A bigger blow for Smith was the loss of two players through injury, with Lee McCulloch hobbling out of the match midway through the first half, before DaMarcus Beasley was carried off shortly after the restart.

While McCulloch is expected to make a quick recovery, Smith revealed that Beasley is more of a cause for concern.

He said: "Beasley's injury looks like a serious one although we aren't certain exactly what it is yet. Lee McCulloch has a knock which isn't quite as bad."

Kevin Thomson had been suspended for Rangers' last European outing in Barcelona but was back in the starting line-up, meaning Adam had to settle for a place on the bench.

Jean-Claude Darcheville – who was on the scoresheet against Falkirk at the weekend – was deployed in the lone striker role ahead of Daniel Cousin, who performed the task in the defeat at the Nou Camp.

Stuttgart were without influential striker Mario Gomez, who was ruled out with a rib injury, and despite their dreadful record in the Champions League came into the game on the back of five straight wins in the Bundesliga – including a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich.

McCulloch was forced out of the action in the 26th minute when he was the victim of an Andreas Beck tackle. Adam was the replacement and had an immediate impact on the game when he opened the scoring within 60 seconds. But Rangers were then caught napping at a Thomas Hitzlsperger corner, which Pardo knocked into the path of Cacau to backheel home.

Stuttgart went ahead after 62 minutes when Pavel Pardo drove in from distance but Rangers were back on level terms eight minutes later when Naismith robbed Delpierre of possession before racing to the by-line and cutting back to Ferguson, who had plenty of time to find the net. But it was Marica who won it for Stuttgart with six minutes to go. Magnin was the provider and Marica managed to squeeze in front of Weir to flick a deft volley into the top corner.

Rangers are at least guaranteed a Uefa Cup spot but Stuttgart coach Armin Veh has backed them to progress further in the Champions League.

The German believes the atmosphere at Ibrox will make all the difference as they chase the point they need against Lyons. He said: "It will be a very open game but Rangers have a really great crowd and that will be a big advantage for them. The fact that Rangers only need a draw is another huge thing in their favour."

Stuttgart (4-3-1-2): Schafer; Beck, Delpierre, Magnin, Hilbert (Ewerthon, 83); Pardo, Fernando Meira, Hitzlsperger; Khedira (Da Silva, ht); Marica; Cacau (Tasci, 88). Substitutes not used: Langer, Osorio, Meissner, Farnerud.

Rangers (4-1-4-1): McGregor, Hutton, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Hemdani; Beasley (Naismith, 49), Ferguson, Thomson, McCulloch (Adam, 26); Darcheville (Cousin, 82). Substitutes not used: Carroll, Boyd, Broadfoot, Whittaker.

Referee: D Ceferin (Slovenia).

Group E

Remaining fixtures: 12 Dec: Barcelona v Stuttgart; Rangers v Lyons.

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