New Rangers FC signing DaMarcus Beasley hopes this season's UEFA Champions League campaign will finally help him shake off the heartbreak of missing out on a final appearance two seasons ago. The 25-year-old American winger was part of Guus Hiddink's PSV Eindhoven side that lost out by the narrowest of margins at the penultimate stage against AC Milan in 2004/05.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg at the San Siro, PSV brought the tie level only to have their dreams shattered by a last minute Massimo Ambrosini strike which sent Milan through to the final against Liverpool FC. Rafael Benítez's side famously went on to win a penalty shoot-out in Istanbul after staging their own dramatic comeback, but the memory of that semi-final defeat still haunts Beasley. "I'm a positive kind of person but without doubt that was the worst moment of my professional career," Beasley told uefa.com. "We had lost 2-0 to Milan in Italy but we played them off the park in the return game and levelled the tie on aggregate. Then Ambrosini scored in the 90th minute. It was a cruel way to go out and there were plenty of tears in the dressing room that night."
According to Beasley PSV never fully recovered from that setback and maintains their exit at the group stage the following season was largely attributable to the after effects of that night at the Philips Stadion. "It was so hard to take because we had a very good team with players like Phillip Cocu and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, and we felt we were on our way to the final. The next season we went out after the group stages and that was definitely a hangover from the semi-final knockout the previous year. Although we had lost a few players, we were still capable of reaching the knockout stages, but it just didn't happen. So, you could say I have some unfinished business as far as the Champions League is concerned."
Rangers will hope to reap the benefits of Beasley’s frustrations this term as they endeavour to reach the group stage for the first time in two seasons. The American international was an unused substitute in Tuesday's 2-0 win over FK Zeta of Montenegro in the first leg of their second round qualifier and Beasley sees parallels between with his fledgling career in the Netherlands after arriving in Europe from Chicago Fire in the summer of 2004. "In my very first European game for PSV we had the same scenario as Rangers," he said.
"We had finished runners-up in the Dutch league and played Red Star Belgrade in a qualifier. Of course, we went on to achieve something incredible that season and I think we can achieve something similar here at Rangers. That showed me that big things can come from humble beginnings. Like PSV, Rangers are a big club but small compared to the likes of Inter Milan, Chelsea and Barcelona, but we still have a lot of quality in our group.
Players like Barry Ferguson know what it's like to play in big games and we will need that experience to reach the group stage."
Before then, Rangers kick off their Premier League campaign away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC on Saturday. Manager Walter Smith insists Celtic are still the benchmark but knows his side cannot go a third season without a trophy. Beasley is still getting back to full fitness after his exertions at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but Smith will need the American to hit the ground running as Rangers look to get their season off to a positive start.
Tuesday's victory against Zeta may not have been convincing, but it was a step in the right direction for Beasley who admits the lure of UEFA Champions League football was the main reason he opted for Rangers after a season on loan at Manchester City FC. Beasley already knew about the intense rivalry between Rangers and Celtic having attended an Old Firm derby in November 2005 when the United States played Scotland in a friendly international. Ironically, he cheered for Celtic that day but as he settles into his new surroundings across the city, Beasley is focussed on reversing the balance of power in Glasgow and making Rangers a force in Europe again.
'Sky's the limit'
"One of the reasons I came here was because the club had the ambition to be in the Champions League every year, which they should be," said Beasley. "It doesn't get any better than the Champions League. Once you hear the music, you get goosebumps all over. For all the guys who haven't been through it, it will be a great experience for them. First of all though, we have to get past two qualifiers, which will not be easy. If we do, the sky's the limit for this club."
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