Negri poised for unexpected return to Rangers line-up

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The Independent Online

Marco Negri, the Rangers striker, is on the brink of an unexpected return to first team football against Galatasaray in the Champions' League in Istanbul tonight after more than two years in the reserves.

Marco Negri, the Rangers striker, is on the brink of an unexpected return to first team football against Galatasaray in the Champions' League in Istanbul tonight after more than two years in the reserves.

Under Dick Advocaat, the Rangers manager, the Italian's sole first-team action in a competitive game has been a substitute appearance against Morton in the Scottish Cup seven months ago. Now, however, doubts over the fitness of Michael Mols may give the 30-year-old an unlikely recall, albeit on the substitutes' bench.

Mols is unlikely to be able to complete 90 minutes as his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury sustained 10 months ago is not yet complete. Negri, therefore, who was handed squad No 35 at the start of the season, is likely to play some part. Apart from a second-half stint as a substitute in a friendly against Glentoran, Negri has had nothing but reserve-team football this season - but Advocaat included him in the 19-man party, 18 of whom will be on duty tonight in the Ali Sami Yen stadium where Rangers will be hoping to improve their lead at the top of Group D.

"He is mentally and physically tuned, otherwise he would not be [in Istanbul]. He started training at the beginning of pre-season and I could see we were much further than he was," Advocaat said. "Now is the moment to bring him back and with the concern about Mols, we do not have an out-and-out striker."

Negri's problems in Scotland stem back to an eye injury sustained in January 1998 when he was playing squash with his team-mate Sergio Porrini. That coincided with a loss of form which led the then manager, Walter Smith, to drop him. Negri is known in the Scottish game as a poacher and although his strike record stands up to scrutiny, he is not regarded as a hard-working player in the mould of Billy Dodds.

Galatasaray have such a player in the Brazilian Jardel, the man who almost joined Rangers four years ago but was unable to get a work permit. "Jardel is a special box player with an exceptional feeling of where he has to be," Advocaat said. "Out of the box he is a different player, but we have seen many, many times people wondering whether he is on the pitch and swoosh - a goal. He is dangerous."

Turning his attention towards his own squad once more, Advocaat insisted that Negri had upped his work-rate over the past few months. "You have to realise players come from different countries and cultures. In France and Italy strikers wait for the ball and the other seven or eight players are playing for the strikers.

"I think the game in Scotland has changed a lot and strikers are now the first line of defence. I think he will try but he will never be a runner," he said.

Stefan Klos, Rangers' German goalkeeper, and the midfielder Jörg Albertz are also doubtful for Advocaat. Klos has been carrying an ankle problem for some weeks now but may still be risked and Albertz has an eye injury.

Advocaat may play the former Galatasaray defender, Tugay Kerimoglu, as sweeper, a ploy that worked well in Monaco last week where Rangers won 1-0. Advocaat said: "I still see Galatasaray as favourites. I have always said the three others have to fight for second place."

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