Gascoigne's dismissal caps Rangers' misery

Ajax 4 Rangers 1
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The Independent Online
A reckless Paul Gascoigne was sent off as Rangers slumped to their third consecutive Champions' League defeat at the hands of a fluent Ajax side here in the Amsterdam ArenA last night. Two goals by the former West Ham striker, Dani, in the first half set up a comfortable victory over a limp Rangers.

With Ajax belying their previous indifferent form this season, Rangers were ponderous by comparison and Ian Durrant's goal, coming between those for Ajax of Tijani Babangida and Nordin Wooter in the second half, was scant consolation. Any hope they had of securing a result went with Gascoigne's hack on Winston Bogarde in the 28th minute.

Through the barricades and across the expanses of wasteland, we finally made it inside the new pounds 70m Amsterdam ArenA and once up to pitch level on the third floor, the trek proved worthwhile. A full house provided a noisier atmosphere than expected amid the palatial splendour, the din carrying through the retracted roof into the clear night air.

Once there, we found, as expected, that injuries had hit both teams hard with one late blow for Rangers. Their inspirational goalkeeper, Andy Goram, had been forced to withdraw with a hip injury, his place taken by the Dutchman, Theo Snelders.

The Scots, however, made the more promising start, knowing that defeats by Grasshopper of Zurich and Auxerre had made this all or nothing for them. Brian Laudrup might have opened the scoring after only five minutes when Stuart McCall's long ball was headed weakly by Frank de Boer to Laudrup, whose side-footed volley was just wide. Soon after, Gascoigne danced through, but slipped at the crucial moment.

Gradually the neater, more mobile Ajax found their feet on the slippery pitch. The lively Nigerian right-winger, Babangida, was sent in by Ronald de Boer's pass, but he delayed too long with his shot. It was, however, a sign of things to come.

Three times in quick succession Snelders came to Rangers' rescue, pushing aside Martijn Reuser's low drive after good work by Babangida, clutching Marcio Santos's curling free-kick to his body, then tipping over Ronald de Boer's powerful 20-yard drive.

He was powerless, however, after 25 minutes, as Ajax took the lead they had been threatening. Babangida produced more good work on the right, and from his chip into the penalty area, Dani glided in between Richard Gough and Joachim Bjorklund to plant a textbook downward header to Snelders' right corner.

Matters worsened for Rangers three minutes later. Gascoigne began a Rangers move on the half-way line and finished it by being sent off. As he challenged for Jorg Albertz's cross, he went down unchallenged from Bogarde and, from the ground, kicked out at the Ajax left-back's shins. A red card was the only punishment.

After that, Rangers looked even easier meat. Ronald de Boer and Marc Overmars both cut inside the hapless right-back, Craig Moore, in quick succession to send in low shots which Snelders got down to well. However, five minutes from half-time, a second goal arrived. Overmars again went past Moore and his curling cross was firmly met again by Dani.

Job done, the second half afforded Ajax the opportunity to indulge in some exhibition football, with Frank de Boer as the fulcrum. The ball was moved crisply, almost effortlessly, around and Snelders was largely responsible for the scoreline remaining in single figures. First he parried Arnold Scholten's drive, then tipped over Ronald de Boer's fierce shot. At the end, Edwin van der Sar was barely troubled, although Rangers half- heartedly claimed a penalty when Laudrup went down under Marcio Santos's challenge.

Ajax roused themselves for one last hurrah and Babangida turned home Ronald de Boer's pass after 82 minutes and Wooter made it four five minutes later. Durrant had converted after good work by Peter van Vossen, but, alarmingly for Rangers, a gulf in quality between the two teams was all too apparent.

Ajax (3-4-3): Van der Sar; Santos, F De Boer, Bogarde; Scholten, Veldman, Dani (Wooter, 78), R De Boer; Babangida, Reuser (Witschge, 41), Overmars. Substitutes not used: Musampa, Melchiot, Grim (gk).

Rangers (4-4-2): Snelders; Moore, Gough, Bjorklund, Cleland; Ferguson (Durrant, 85), McCall, Gascoigne, McInnes (Miller, 80); Laudrup (Van Vossen, 80), Albertz. Substitutes not used: Rae, Petric.

Referee: H Krug (Germany).

Photograph, page 31