Rangers 1 Internazionale 1: Rangers go through but McLeish may miss party

Click to follow
The Independent Football

In what had been widely touted as Alex McLeish's final game as the Rangers manager, his side battled to a point at Ibrox last night as Peter Lovenkrands cancelled out Adriano's opener to make history for Rangers. With Artmedia Bratislava failing to beat Porto in the other Group H match, a point was sufficient for Rangers to progress to the knock-out stages of the Champions' League, the first Scottish club ever to do so.

McLeish's future has been the subject of speculation for months as Rangers have stumbled time and again in the defence of their league title. The heat increased three weeks ago when his chairman, David Murray announced that McLeish had until early December to save his job.

Rangers have remained poor since, domestically at least, compiling a winless run that reached nine matches last Saturday and has already earned them the dubious distinction of being the worst side in the club's history. In the SPL, the team are lagging in fifth place, 17 points adrift of the leaders, Celtic.

McLeish's woes started when he had a full squad and have intensified with a growing injury list. With no seasoned, able-bodied strikers to chose from last night - talisman Dado Prso remains sidelined, as does Nacho Novo - he started with a winger, Peter Lovenkrands, as his spearhead, and Thomas Buffel tucked in behind.

Roberto Mancini, knowing that Inter would top the group whatever, and with one eye on the weekend's Milan derby, opted for stand-ins. He kicked off with without seven first-choice starters.

For 35 minutes of the first half, Rangers were consumed by Inter's shadows, who rarely hit their stride but looked languidly dangerous, as opposed to plain languid, like their hosts.

The sweetest move by Rangers in the opening period ended with a whimper. Ricksen slipped a perfectly weighted ball down the right wing to Chris Burke. Burke eased past Nicolas Burdisso, spun on a sixpence and crossed. Then Hamed Namouchi, in perfect position, mustered the aggression of a dandelion to pat his header on goal.

Rangers' defence was breached on the half-hour, when Adriano, unmarked at a corner, leapt and headed for 1-0.

Then Lovenkrands struck the equaliser. Head down, arms pumping, he met a defence-splitting 40-yard pass from Buffel, took it in his stride and finished with composure.

Inter began the second half like a defensive training exercise: happy to sit back, break up play, knock balls forward, lope after them, regroup, and start again. The game was there for Rangers' taking, but they lacked penetration.

The Italians went down to 10 men in the 89th minute, when Cristiano Zanetti was sent off for a second bookable offence. From the free-kick that Zanetti conceded, Malcolm swerved the ball towards goal and Namouchi's flashing header went over.

Rangers (4-4-1-1): Waterreus; Ricksen, Andrews, Kyrgiakos, Murray; Burke, Malcolm, Ferguson, Namouchi; Buffel; Lovenkrands. Substitutes not used: Klos (gk), Pierre-Fanfan, Thompson, Hutton, Jeffers, Smith, McCormack.

Internazionale (4-4-2): Toldo; Andreolli (J Zanetti, 70), Mihajlovic, Materazzi (Momente, 42), Burdisso; Solari, C Zanetti, Pizarro, Wome; Adriano (Boumsong, 81), Martins. Substitutes not used: Julio Cesar (gk), Favalli, Cambiasso, Samuel, Boumsong.

Referee: K Plautz (Austria).