Berg happy to be a big noise in the Ibrox fervour

Click to follow
The Independent Football

In Edinburgh, festival time is in August, in Munich it's October. Glasgow, however, is a city that loves football even more than drinking, and a crowded calendar over the next three months will be proof of that. Athens may have more teams in the Champions' League, while London and Istanbul will match the two that Glasgow can put up. Yet few places can match the fervour of the Old Firm.

Peter Lovenkrands's stunning winner for Rangers against VfB Stuttgart on Tuesday lifted the roof off Ibrox, and the decibel level could almost have been heard back in Germany, where 8,000 Celtic fans were sampling Munich's famous beer to soothe their tonsils ahead of a raucous night's work in the Olympic Stadium 24 hours later. That Celtic failed to make it a memorable double for the Old Firm was only down to some wretched goalkeeping from Magnus Hedman in the dying minutes.

Still, in their 2-1 defeat by Bayern Munich, Martin O'Neill's team had joined that of Alex McLeish in delivering a message to the Bundesliga that they did not represent the Mickey Mouse League that German detractors had claimed. "Some people in Europe are a bit disrespectful of the Scottish Premier League, but they should not be," declared McLeish, who takes his Rangers side to Tynecastle today to face a Hearts team, opening their own European campaign on Wednesday in the Uefa Cup, who managed to do last season what Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers could not: defeat Celtic.

One man who suffered first-hand when Celtic came to Ewood Park and handed out a beating to Graeme Souness's side warned that the forthcoming Battle of Britain between Manchester United and Rangers is not the forgone conclusion it has been painted. Henning Berg lifted the European Cup with United in 1999, yet the Norwegian - who joined Rangers from Blackburn in the summer - said he had never experienced a cacophony like that at Ibrox, once Christian Nerlinger's 74th-minute equaliser against Stuttgart was swiftly followed by Lovenkrands's strike.

"It was an amazing feeling when you were out there, it made the goosebumps go up on my arms," smiled Berg. "You could barely even hear the Champions' League song because of the noise. As a footballer that is what you want to experience, and you never want to forget that.

"I have played in some big games for United, like when we beat Juventus at home, but this was something special, it was even better. I don't think the United players will be intimidated by the atmosphere when they come to Ibrox [on 21 October]. In fact, knowing them, they will probably be inspired by it."

Rangers' next Champions' League task is to get a result in Greece on 1 October when they take on Panathinaikos, dismantled 5-0 at Old Trafford. "That is good for us, because it gives us a better chance of coming second in the group," said Berg, who had been planning to retire and head home to Norway until McLeish persuaded him to do otherwise.

"It's nights like the Stuttgart game when I'm glad I'm giving it one more year," he declared. "I knew we had a chance of qualifying for the Champions' League, and now we are in the group stages we have to enjoy it. We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but in the second half we kept going and going, and if you do that you've always got a chance." His fellow Scandinavian, Hedman, understands that philosophy only too well. In a mirror image of events at Ibrox, it was the Swede who picked a ball out of his net twice in the last 15 minutes to see a merited success against the 2001 and Group A favourites turn into defeat.

"There is no point in trying to hide," said the Celtic goalkeeper. "I made a mistake that cost us. That is bad enough against any opposition, but in the Champions' League it is worse, and I feel terrible."

Celtic had frustrated Bayern and looked more than capable of holding on to the lead Alan Thompson had provided. Now O'Neill may turn back to Robert Douglas to solve his keeper conundrum.

Comments