Rangers are left on the outside, looking in, yet again, as Panathinaikos came to Ibrox last night and snatched a Uefa Cup place from under their noses with a devastating display in the second half.
The Scottish champions only needed a point from their last Group E game to earn the consolation prize but despite being given the lead by Michael Mols, a stunning riposte from Raimondas Zutautas, Angelos Basinas and Michalis Konstantinou saw the Greeks claim the prize.
Though this was a dead game in Champions' League terms, it offered a lifeline for both sides. Being parachuted into the Uefa Cup would have allowed either to extend what had been a disappointing European campaign.
Panathinaikos failed to match Rangers for desire in the early passage of the contest and gradually the Scottish champions began to control proceedings. At the core was Chris Burke, who troubled the Greek defence on several occasions. In the 20th minute, he sent a flashing volley across the face of goal
Seven minutes later, Rangers scored the goal their play merited. Mols rose to meet Michael Ball's cross from the left and bullet in a header that Antonios Nikopolidis could only help on its way into the net.
However, Rangers were dragged back to parity just four minutes later when Zutautas equalised with a venomous low shot from 25 yards.
The contest was now on a knife-edge. Rangers protected that scoreline until half-time but the Greeks threw on Joel Epalle, another forward, after the break to indicate their optimism.
The visitors had the look of a team who knew their hour had arrived. In the second half they carried the fight to Rangers and should have gone in front when Epalle burst clear and sent a low shot that was kept out by Henning Berg at the near post, only for Miltos Sapanis to fail to finish off the rebound with an open goal in front of him.
Just before the hour, Konstantinou sent a shiver around Ibrox when his 20-yard shot flew past Stefan Klos but hit the post and stayed out. The warning was not heeded. Basinas was not closed down in the middle of the pitch and conjured up a ferocious shot from 35 yards that flew past Klos to silence 48,000 Rangers fans.
Rangers went for broke in a bid to get the goal that would keep them in Europe, but a ruthless counter-attack in the 80th minute saw Konstantinou race clear before steering a shot beyond Klos.
The Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, blamed the defeat on his side's lack of experience. The Scottish champions were without the injured Ronald de Boer, Craig Moore, Mikel Arteta, Shota Arveladze, Christian Nerlinger and Steven Thompson, while Emerson was away on compassionate leave.
"I think things caught up with us and we didn't handle the situation at one each," said McLeish. "We don't like holding on to a 1-1. We get edgy and nervy and our passing was slack. We passed to the opposition, who pushed up more in the second half and we allowed that to affect us. And that is down to inexperience at that level."
Rangers (4-4-2): Klos; Ross (Duffy, 83), Berg, Khizanishvili (Vanoli, 65), Ball; Burke (Ostenstad, 69), Ricksen, Hughes, Lovenkrands; Capucho, Mols. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Malcolm, Gibson, Smith.
Panathinaikos (3-2-4-1): Nikopolidis; Seitaridis, Morris, Münch; Henriksen, Goumas; Sanmartean (Epalle, 46), Basinas, Zutautas, Sapanis (Vlaovic, 78); Konstantinou. Substitutes not used: Kotsolis (gk), Warzycha, Gitas, Konstantinidis, Michaelsen.
Referee: H Fandel (Germany).Reuse content