Rangers come to end of road

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The Independent Online
Rangers 0 Ajax 1

A glimmer of light in the darkness for Rangers has now been extinguished, as once again their Champions' League adventure has come to a premature end.

The Scottish champions have failed to win any points in their four games to date and, although it seems that Scottish clubs, whatever their domestic form, are found wanting on the wider stage, Rangers at least showed that they are learning.

Walter Smith, the Rangers' manager, who was without 12 first-team players, must have crossed all his fingers as he sent out his side which included the debutante Scott Wilson. While they avoided a repeat of the embarrassing 4-1 defeat in their previous meeting with the Dutch champions, in the second half Rangers played with a maturity which belied the circumstances.

The traditional Scottish approach of sending high balls to strikers and charging headlong at the opposition defence was eschewed for a more studied passing game, which relied on the midfield remaining a tightly packed unit rather than rampaging forward.

Ian Durrant and Brian Laudrup, who was captain for the night, revelled in the space they created to the extent that Ajax only just held on for victory. No Scottish club can hope to match teams such as Ajax for the sure touch and athleticism, but in the second half Rangers showed that teamwork can overcome many obstacles.

Ajax had largely dominated the first half without creating too many clear chances, although Theo Snelders, the Rangers' goalkeeper, was forced to push over a shot from Ronald de Boer before Arnold Scholten opened the scoring. The blond midfield player collected a pass from Ronald de Boer and steadied himself before unleashing a raking 22-yard shot into the bottom corner of the net.

By the time Peter van Vossen had replaced Charlie Miller in the 58th minute, the home team were beginning to exert their influence. Laudrup opened up the Ajax defence on the right hand side but, when his cross fell kindly to Jorg Albertz, the German midfielder hit the ball into the crowd from 12 yards.

Ally McCoist and Erik Bo Andersen also came on as Rangers looked for an equaliser, and this almost succeeded at the end when Van Vossen drove a powerful shot across the face of goal.

Rangers (3-5-2): Snelders; Petric, Wilson (Andersen, 85), Bjorklund; Shields, McInnes (McCoist, 80), Albertz, Durrant, Robertson; Miller (Van Vossen, 58), Laudrup. Substitutes not used: McGinty, Rae (gk).

Ajax (3-4-3): Van Der Sar; Veldman, Santos, Melchiot; Scholten, F De Boer (Wooter, 69), R De Boer, Witschge; Babangida (Dani, 71), Kluivert, Overmars (Tupijn, 78). Substitutes not used: Reuser, Grim (gk).

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).