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Rangers' foreign legion ready

Published: Wednesday 22 October 2003, 10.48CET
Rangers FC are primed for what manager Alex McLeish considers their "biggest test yet" against Manchester United FC in Group E.

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Published: Wednesday 22 October 2003, 10.48CET

Rangers' foreign legion ready

Rangers FC are primed for what manager Alex McLeish considers their "biggest test yet" against Manchester United FC in Group E.

By Simon Hart & Jonathan Wilson

'The Battle of Britain' is the preferred tabloid tag for any Anglo-Scottish encounter and the Ibrox meeting of Rangers FC and Manchester United FC on Wednesday is no different.

No Scotsmen
But when Rangers, the champions of Scotland, take on their English counterparts, it is likely they will do so without a single Scotsman in their starting XI. In their two UEFA Champions League assignments so far, Rangers have taken the field with only one British player - the English defender Michael Ball.

Foreign legion
Yet, according to their Georgian defender Zurab Khizanishvili, the Lights Blues' foreign legion are fully aware of the extra significance of the United match. "It is not a normal game," he told uefa.com. "Rangers always go on to the field to win, but the meeting with United is very unusual. It is important for the whole of Scotland."

Motivation no worry
The Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, spoke this week of the need to "almost be a psychologist" in the modern-day, multi-national dressing room. Yet motivation is unlikely to be a worry on Wednesday. "We have had several meetings with Rangers fans, and they have all begged us to beat United," Khizanishvili continued.

'A great responsibility'
"We have a great responsibility, and all the foreign players understand that. Every country has matches like this - Celtic [FC] v Rangers or [FC] Dinamo Tbilisi v [FC] Spartak Moskva - I understand the emotions well. And, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson manages Manchester United."

Extra spice
Ferguson's presence certainly provides extra spice, as if any were needed. Glasgow-born and a former Rangers player, he has acted as a mentor to McLeish, who played under him for Aberdeen FC and the Scotland national team in the 1980s, and now seeks his advice about managerial matters.

Arveladze comments
Khizanishvili's fellow Georgian, striker Shota Arveldadze, said: "That is why Scots really want to beat United. Ferguson is a genius. He has been at United a long time, has won many titles, developed many stars and today his club is one of the best in the world."

No inferiority complex
Despite their respect for United, there is no inferiority complex emanating from Ibrox. Rangers, who beat their last English opponents, Leeds United AFC, home and away in the 1992/93 Champions League, lead Group E with four points from their two matches - a 2-1 home victory over VfB Stuttgart and 1-1 draw at Panathinaikos FC. Yet McLeish acknowledged that this was their "biggest test" so far.

'My biggest test'
"It's my biggest test yet in terms of the stature of the club that we face," he told uefa.com. "We have to be at our best. We cannot have any off-days as they are a magnificent side. We have to know what we're doing when we have the ball, and we have to know what we're doing when we have not got the ball.

Nothing is guaranteed
"But at Ibrox in front of our own fans why should we be intimidated? We've already beaten Stuttgart, and Stuttgart beat Man United - that tells you that nothing is guaranteed in this game and you have to earn the right to win." Let battle commence.

Last updated: 22/10/03 22.49CET

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