Threadbare Rangers torn apart by Seville
Rangers 1 Seville 4
Wednesday 30 September 2009
Having been denied a penalty that would have given them a half-time lead, Rangers crashed to this heavy defeat at Ibrox, torn apart in a 23-minute spell that was all about the fluidity of Seville and the flat-footedness of the home side.
Rangers grabbed a consolation via Nacho Novo's well-taken goal two minutes from the end but already their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League are somewhere between slim and non-existent.
Seville and Stuttgart started as the favourites to finish first and second in Group G, and Seville will surely top it. Rangers' only prayer is that Stuttgart keep stuttering as they did by drawing at lowly Unirea Urziceni as Rangers were being humbled.
Seville's Abdoulay Konko was the unpunished culprit in the spot kick incident – in which Steven Naismith was clearly floored – and he irritated Rangers again when he opened the rout with a 50th-minute header. Adriano made it two after a cross from Luis Fabiano, who himself headed in for 3-0 when set up by Frédéric Kanouté. The former Tottenham and West Ham man then made it four by sweeping home from Fabiano's assist. Slick? You bet. Sickening for Walter Smith? "When you play against teams with the quality of Seville you need the breaks and we didn't get that one," the Rangers manager said of the penalty that got away.
"It looked clear cut to me but the referee did not give it. He had two decisions to make – if it's a penalty, he has to send the man off, and that makes it awkward for him. But at this level, I'd expect him to get it right and he opted out of a clear-cut decision."
Like officiating decisions, finances are not always rational either. A club of Rangers' size would be massively resourced in Spain but Smith has not been allowed to spend a penny on players since the summer of 2008. Even then, he was only able to buy modestly, with Madjid Bougherra, Pedro Mendes and Steve Davis arriving at roughly the combined cost of the £7.5m that was banked by selling Carlos Cuellar to Aston Villa.
Cuellar rose to prominence in Britain during Rangers' 2007-08 run to the Uefa Cup final, but memorable continental nights have been notable only by their absence since. Having crashed out of Europe in the preliminaries last season, just being in the group stages this year is a huge deal.
Seville, by contrast, were third in La Liga last season behind Barcelona and Real Madrid and though in the shadows of that duopoly, they still operate on a different level to Rangers. They won the Uefa Cup in 2006 and 2007 (at Hampden) and arrived here in good heart after a 4-0 weekend romp.
Rangers have had a barren domestic run, going three league games without a goal from dull 0-0 draws against Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Not since 1994 have they had such a poor non-scoring spell.
Their lack of spark, combined with Smith's typically cautious one-up approach in Europe, led to him gambling on a change in his lone striker. Naismith was awarded that role instead of Kenny Miller, one of four forwards starting on the bench.
The main talking point of the first half was that stonewall penalty claim, ignored by the Swedish referee, Jonas Eriksson. To the naked eye it looked clear-cut that Konko had felled Naismith in the area in the 36th minute. TV replays backed that up. Naismith, not a man with a track record of fakery or going to ground easily, was left fuming while Konko's face betrayed that he felt he'd got away with something.
Rangers had the better of the first half, albeit via lung-busting endeavour than with silky skills. Mendes shot wide, Steven Whittaker hacked a chance, Kevin Thomson shot over and Lee McCulloch went wide.
The visitors had two good chances before the break, the first falling to Kanouté. His rising shot was palmed away by Allan McGregor. Adriano was also thwarted. After Konko opened the scoring, it was one-way traffic as the gap in class became a chasm, then an abyss.
Rangers (4-1-4-1): McGregor; Whittaker, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; McCulloch (Boyd 72); Davis, Mendes, Thomson, Rothen (Novo 72); Naismith. Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk) Miller, Smith, Fleck, Little.
Seville (4-4-2): Palop; Konko, Squillaci, Escude, Lolo; Zokora, Jesus Navas, Navarro, Adriano (Capel 66); Luis Fabiano (Romaric 79), Kanoute (Negredo 74). Substitutes not used: Javi Varas (gk), Dragutinovic, Renato, Sanchez.
Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden).
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