Rangers ready to reap reward

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The Independent Online
Peter van Vossen could be about to fire Rangers into a Champions' League place, having admitted that he wanted to quit Ibrox during the summer.

With four goals in his last two matches, the Dutch forward could be a key player today when the Scots play the Russians of Alania Vladikavkaz.

Walter Smith's team take a 3-1 lead into their preliminary round second leg tie and are being promised a hot reception by the Alania coach, Valery Gazzayev, and 40,000 locals in the North Ossetia outpost.

They are within 40 miles from the border of war-torn Chechnya, but Smith insists the match itself is high risk enough for it to be his greatest concern. And for van Vossen simply to be enjoying his football again is an escape to victory after a torrid campaign last year.

"It was the worst season I have experienced," said van Vossen, who moved first to Istanbulspor in Turkey from Ajax in the summer of 1995 and then to Glasgow in January in a swap deal for Oleg Salenko. He quickly inherited Salenko's misfit tag at Ibrox, but over the close season a heart-to-heart with Smith salvaged his career.

"At the start of the summer I spoke to the manager and told him I wanted to return to Holland because I was homesick," van Vossen said.

"There were clubs at home interested, but after my holidays I came back and had another talk with Walter Smith. I asked him if he thought I was a good player and he said I might be, but I had to prove it.

"Now football is fun again for me suddenly. I could have gone back to Holland, but wherever you go, you take your problems with you. Right now, Rangers are the best club for me."

Ally McCoist's inclusion may rest on the fitness of Gordon Durie. Durie, who scored a preliminary round winner against Cypriots Anorthosis Famagusta a year ago, has been taking antibiotics for a chest infection.

Rangers are reaching for the Champions' League stage - worth some pounds 5m to the qualifiers - for the third time in five years with their stars on a reputed pounds 30,000-a-man bonus as reward. "What we did four seasons ago in 1992-93 when we pushed Marseille for a place in the final helped persuade Brian Laudrup to come to Scotland."

Alania, who are joint top of the Russian League, will be without Arthur Pageyev, sent off at Ibrox, where Igor Yanovsky's late penalty miss could prove crucial. Rangers will be without the suspended Paul Gascoigne and injured pair David Robertson and Alan McLaren.

This might be the best and last chance for Rangers to reach the final stages. Uefa, Europe's governing body, plan to alter the format of the competition and the Scottish champions could find themselves playing not one, but two pre-qualifying ties, starting next July.