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The secrets of Rangers' success

By Julian Taylor

When Rangers limped off after a Champions League capitulation at home to Lyon in December, few thought that just four months later the same players would be eyeing a European final.

The dejected Glasgow club were parachuted into the Uefa Cup and now only Fiorentina stand in the way of an appearance at the City of Manchester stadium on 14 May.

It would be a remarkable achievement and long overdue for a club who have not tasted continental success since a European Cup Winners' Cup victory in 1972.

BBC Sport assesses Rangers' run under Walter Smith.

HOW HAS SMITH SUCCEEDED?

One of the main criticisms of Smith's first spell in charge was that, for all Rangers' domestic domination, he could not adjust his teams to the European arena.

Ironically, this time around, the Light Blues have fewer resources, and their Uefa Cup run has been the result of Smith's greater experience and pragmatism.

Walter Smith & Barry Ferguson
Walter Smith congratulates Barry Ferguson after victory over Sporting

His approach has been to play with just one striker up front, with Jean-Claude Darcheville carrying the responsibility, with the prolific Kris Boyd featuring just once, against Panathinaikos.

This hasn't always been popular with the fans, but the former Scotland manager's persistence has paid dividends, as Rangers have conceded only two goals in six games ahead of the semi-final clash against the Italians.

Rangers looked comfortable for long periods in Lisbon, with a maturity to their possession play in midfield. Darcheville simply delivered when opportunity arose.

Smith admitted earlier that the prospect of Uefa Cup football was firmly down his list of priorities, with the SPL title the main item on his agenda.

But now, with each passing success, confidence and excitement has grown, with Rangers supporters eager for their club to emulate Celtic's run to the 2003 final.

THE SCOTTISH FACTOR

Smith's experience with the national team has helped - his emphasis on Scottish-style industry has transformed Rangers.

The 60-year-old's success with Scotland - particularly when plotting the famous Hampden win over France - will no doubt have imbued him with the belief that, as a manager, he can outfox the biggest names at the highest level.

RANGERS IN THE UEFA CUP
13 February, Round of 32: v Panathinaikos (H) 0-0
21 February, Round of 32: v Panathinaikos (A) 1-1
6 March, Round of 16: v Werder Bremen (H) 2-0
13 March, Round of 16: v Werder Bremen (A) 0-1
3 April, Quarter-final: v Sporting (H) 0-0
10 April, Quarter-final: v Sporting (A) 2-0
24 April, Semi-final: v Fiorentina (H)
1 May, Semi-final: v Fiorentina (A)

Central to the Uefa Cup campaign has been the form of key Scots such as goalkeeper Allan McGregor, veteran defender David Weir plus Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson.

McGregor's performance away to Werder Bremen was quite outstanding, while captain Ferguson has always looked comfortable in any European company.

Weir's partnership with the exceptional Spaniard Carlos Cuellar - who has a rugged, traditional Scots style - has been one of the major reasons why Smith can rely on a solid backbone in pressurised situations in Europe against quality sides.

RANGERS' NEW EUROPEAN RESILIENCE

On several occasions the Ibrox side have answered a stern test of their character.

The second leg of their tie in Bremen saw the German side dominate. Yet Rangers prevailed, thanks to McGregor, Smith's organisation and a fair slice of good luck.

Jean-Claude Darcheville
Jean-Claude Darcheville will be crucial to Rangers' Uefa Cup hopes

Crucial goals have also helped their cause. A tricky tie in Athens was negotiated when Nacho Novo netted a priceless late away goal against Panathinaikos, and Steven Whittaker's sublime finish against Sporting crowned a deserved win.

Curiously, it could be argued that the Uefa Cup adventure has been a relatively relaxing diversion from the SPL title battle with holders Celtic, with the season set to reach another edgy conclusion.

The fact is that the prospect of actually winning the Uefa Cup is only now beginning to dawn on Rangers, taking even Smith by surprise.

The manager will continue to claim that winning a 52nd Scottish championship will be the main priority.

However, a serious tilt at the Uefa Cup now gives Rangers a profile in Europe they certainly would not have dreamt of earlier in the season.


see also
Sporting 0-2 Rangers (0-2)
10 Apr 08 |  Europe
W Bremen 1-0 Rangers (agg 1-2)
13 Mar 08 |  Europe
Panathinaikos 1-1 Rangers
21 Feb 08 |  Europe
Rangers rescued
09 Jan 08 |  Rangers


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