THE BOYS DANE
Just after 4pm on Saturday August 23rd, Rangers
looked to be a club staring into the abyss. Rocked by stories about
a £60M plus debt, supporters disillusioned by another poor
European showing - against Copenhagen - and with skipper Barry
Ferguson on his way to Blackburn, the Ibrox team faced defeat
at home against Hibs.
The Easter Road side had already twice taken the lead before being
pegged back and were then awarded a penalty. Defeat followed by
an exit from Europe and Ferguson's departure would have left their
hopes for 2003-04 in ruins before a single leaf had fallen from
a tree. But Stefan Klos saved the shot, Rangers went on to
win 5-2 then turned their fortunes round even more spectatularly
with a 2-1 win in Denmark to ensure qualification to the
While it would be exaggerating to suggest that all is now rosy in
Govan or that Copenhagen were a team of world-beaters, there is
no doubt that the Gers success in Denmark was an excellent result
and their debt problems will be eased somewhat by the guaranteed
millions of Swiss Francs their qualification will bring them.
All told it has been an excellent start for our teams in Europe.
Celtic have followed on from last season's UEFA Cup Final
by brushing aside Lithuanian and Hungarian opposition, twice winning
4-0 away, to reach the promised land of the Champions League.
Just as Celtic's progress to date has been smoother so too do their
prospects for advancement seem brighter. An away trip to Bayern
Munich is a daunting start to their Champions League campaign
but neither of their other opponents - Olympique Lyons and
Anderlecht - were on anybody's 'must avoid' list when the
draw was made.
Of course it won't be easy but Celtic have a fair chance of making
the last sixteen.
Rangers appear to have drawn the short straw. Not
in terms of glamour - the presence of Manchester United in
their group is testimony to that - but it is difficult to see how
the Scottish champions can make any further progress. No one relishes
a trip to Athens to face Panathinaikos, which is the second
match in their itinerary. And when you consider that is followed
by back-to-back tussles with the team from Old Trafford you can
appreciate just how big a task Rangers face to qualify.
Fortunately they face Stuttgart at home in their first match.
German sides in general have been slipping in Europe in the past
few seasons - there are as many Scottish teams in this year's Champions
League as German ones. And Stuttgart in particular don't have a
great record against the Scots. They only squeezed past Hearts on
away goals in the UEFA Cup three seasons ago and were beaten by
Celtic in the same competition last season.
Even so the most optimistic scenario would see Rangers relying
on good home results and hoping for draws when Stuttgart and Panathinaikos
face each other.
Dundee kept up the good work in the UEFA
Cup with a 6-0 aggregate win over Vllaznia, becoming
the first Scottish team to win in Albania in the process. That brought
our teams record in Europe this season to P8 W7 D1 L0 F19 A2.
OK, our sides were seeded to win these ties but seeds can come unstuck
- as Newcastle United and Borussia Dortmund can testify.
The first-ever Scottish victory in Albania
No matter which way you look at it that's an impressive
record and one which helps our future rankings. Our remaining team
- Hearts - are already the beneficiaries of a rise in the
co-efficient, being seeded in the first round of the UEFA Cup. Opponents
Zeljeznicar will be no pushovers - they were beaten by Kilmarnock
a few seasons ago in a close contest - but Hearts will be favourites
to go through.
Unlike Dundee, whose reward for their impressive return to Europe
after nearly 30 years is to face Perugia. The Italians may
not be one of the glamour sides of Serie A but 10th place in Italy
should be good enough to see off 6th placed in Scotland.
Perugia were poor travellers last season, winning just once away
in the League. But they appear to have overcome this weakness in
the Inter Toto Cup. The Italians reached the UEFA Cup with wins
along the way in Finland, in France against Nantes and in Wolfsburg
What is more they didn't concede a single goal in
their six Inter Toto ties. A Dundee victory would be a major upset.
At any rate we are guaranteed four teams in Europe until mid-October
and two at least until December. It's been the best start for Scottish
sides in Europe for many years.
All we need now is for the national team to do likewise.