Rangers FC find themselves in the curious position of being on the threshold of becoming the first Scottish side to qualify for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League while simultaneously enduring one of their worst domestic runs in their history.
The Scottish champions entertain Group H winners FC Internazionale Milano on Tuesday knowing maximum points would secure their place in the last 16, but Alex McLeish's team go into their final match in the section having failed to win any of their last nine games - a club record equalling a similar sequence back in 1891. The latest disappointment came at Ibrox on Saturday when Rangers surrendered a two-goal cushion to draw against Falkirk FC, a result that left them in fifth place - 17 points behind league leaders and city rivals Celtic FC.
McLeish brushed aside questions about his own future, preferring to concentrate on Rangers' chance to make history. "Obviously our league form is very disappointing but we still have this marvellous opportunity," said McLeish. "I told the chairman a couple of weeks ago I wasn't walking away and was determined to be involved in this European experience. I'm absolutely certain that if we had made a change then we would be struggling to stay in Europe."
McLeish confirmed that Rangers will be without strikers Dado Pršo and Nacho Novo, both having failed to overcome respective hamstring and foot injuries. They join an extensive casualty list including Brahim Hemdani, Julien Rodriguez, Olivier Bernard and Federico Nieto. However, captain Barry Ferguson is available again after a domestic suspension, while Belgium playmaker Thomas Buffel made his long-awaited comeback at the weekend following a two-month lay-off with a knee injury.
A draw or even a defeat might be enough for Rangers to progress depending on the outcome of the other Group H fixture between FC Artmedia and FC Porto. Buffel wants his side to concentrate on their own game and forget what might be happening in Slovakia, saying: "We can't look to the other match. It's important we focus on our own game and try to win. We need to be well-organised and make sure we don't give goals away easily. It's important that the players play for their own pride, for the fans and for the trainer."
Table-topping Inter arrived in Glasgow with a 19-man squad shorn of several key players including Luís Figo, Kily González, Dejan Stanković, Juan Sebastián Verón and Iván Cordoba. Zé Maria and Julio Cruz also miss out through injury but captain Javier Zanetti denied the Nerazzurri were thinking more about the Milan derby on Sunday.
"The Champions League is always important and we can prepare for the game against AC Milan by playing well here," said Zanetti, whose side warmed up with a 1-0 weekend victory against Ascoli Calcio 1898. "Even if we have a few players missing, Inter have 25 good players and I would back the players selected to do their best for the team."
'A competitive team'
Visiting coach Roberto Mancini knows Ibrox from his playing days and feels the crowd could be a key factor in deciding the outcome. "I expect the supporters will play an important role for Rangers," he said. "Some of my players are not fit, that's why they didn't travel, but we have a competitive team and we will play a competitive game."
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