Rangers 2 Villarreal 2: Buffel hands Rangers late lifeline to European ambitions

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The Independent Football

Thomas Buffel came off the bench to snatch a late draw for Rangers last night and keep alive their hopes of a Champions' League quarter-final. Twice they fell behind to visitors who were only sporadically lively, and they only shone themselves in fits and starts, but Buffel's strike, which entered the net via a deflection off Juan Manuel Pena, means that hope lives on.

"Our efforts were fantastic," said the Rangers manager, Alex McLeish. "We can play better, but the spirit, determination and passion were there... We're still alive."

McLeish is about to enter the job market, so his admission in last night's programme that, "I questioned [recently] whether or not I could cut it tactically at the top level" was surprising.

He made two changes last night, bringing in Peter Lovenkrands for Kris Boyd, and, controversially, Hamed Namouchi for Buffel. The Argentinian playmaker, Juan Roman Riquelme, returned for the visitors. "Different class," was McLeish's assessment, though Riquelme was jeered for his celebration after opening the scoring with an early penalty.

Dado Prso inexplicably handled in the box while under no obvious pressure from a Villarreal corner. "You can't legislate for everything," McLeish said.

Villarreal had a scrambled effort disallowed for offside before Burke hared off on a run, ball at feet, to create the equaliser. His lay-off was forced, because he overran, but the ball broke kindly to Lovenkrands, whose 20-yard left-foot shot bulged the centre of the net.

Villarreal had another goal disallowed for offside before scoring a second, through Diego Forlan, who looked more offside than at either of those chalked off.

Rangers had a late penalty claim turned down. "Stonewaller," McLeish had been told by a staff member. Maybe, but he can feel satisfied anyway.

Rangers (4-4-2): Waterreus; Hutton, Kyrgiakos, Rodriguez, Smith; Burke, Hemdani, Ferguson, Namouchi (Buffel, 69); Lovenkrands (Novo, 75), Prso (Boyd, 89). Substitutes not used: Klos (gk), Ricksen, Andrews, Murray.

Villarreal (4-3-1-2): Vieira; Javi Venta, Pena, Gonzalo, Arruabarrena (Sorin, 62); Senna, Tacchinardi, Josico; Riquelme (Cesar Arzo, 90); Forlan, Jose Mari (Roger, 84). Substitutes not used: Barbosa (gk), Guayre, Calleja, Hector Font.

Referee: E Poulat (France).