Rangers FC captain Barry Ferguson has told uefa.com that reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League is the highlight of his career.
When Rangers clinched second spot in Group H with a 1-1 draw at home to FC Internazionale Milano on Matchday 6, Ferguson became the first captain to lead a Scottish side into the last 16 since the competition's inauguration in 1992/93. "We are the first Scottish club to do that and it's a massive achievement, especially for myself," the 27-year-old Scotland skipper said. "To lead the club to the last 16 is a special feeling and beats everything I've ever achieved in the game."
Ferguson will be watching the draw with his team-mates at their Murray Park training complex knowing they will be paired with Arsenal FC, Liverpool FC, Juventus, AC Milan, Villarreal CF, FC Barcelona or Olympique Lyonnais. Peter Løvenkrands, who scored the crucial equaliser against the Nerazzurri, has already expressed a wish to take on Frank Rijkaard's Primera División leaders, but Ferguson has no preference.
"I really don't care who we get," he added. "I have seen all the names that we could face and they are truly mind-blowing. But it's good to come up against the best in the business, so I'm already looking forward to the challenge."
While Rangers have been on top of their game in Europe, the defence of their domestic championship has been less successful. The draw against Inter might have ensured progress in the UEFA Champions League, but it also marked the culmination of a ten-match sequence without a victory in all competitions, the worst run of results in the club's 132-year history.
Rangers are 17 points behind league leaders Celtic FC, and their poor form placed a huge question mark over the future of manager Alex McLeish, which was only removed last Thursday when chairman David Murray granted McLeish the opportunity to lead Rangers into the knockout rounds.
Ferguson is relieved the uncertainty over the manager's future has been resolved and claims Rangers' success in the UEFA Champions League has also vindicated his decision to return to Ibrox eleven months ago after a year in the English Premiership with Blackburn Rovers FC.
"McLeish was the guy who brought me back from Blackburn when a few people didn't want me here," said Ferguson. "He had a lot of faith in me and I've got a lot of time for him because of that. I'm happy for him because he's been under a lot of pressure and so have we, but it's pressure that's been deserved because we've not been producing on the league front.
"The prospect of UEFA Champions League football is the reason I came back from Blackburn but we need to start winning at home as well," he added. "We're a long way behind Celtic, Hearts [Heart of Midlothian FC] and Hibs [Hibernian FC], but nothing is impossible after what happened last season when we won the title on the final day. You never know what can happen and that also applies to the UEFA Champions League. We've got to the last 16, so who's to say we can't make it to the quarter-finals?"
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