By Ken Martin
Rangers FC midfield player Ronald de Boer is confident the Ibrox club will secure their place in the UEFA Cup with victory against Panathinaikos FC tonight. The Scottish champions need a point from their final UEFA Champions League Group E game to secure qualification ahead of the Greek side, who De Boer believes are the weakest link in the group.
Confident of victory
"Panathinaikos have not impressed me in their games up until now so they are definitely beatable," he told uefa.com. "You must always respect the opposition and they will fight, but if we are in good shape on the night we can beat them. Last week I was hoping we could beat [VfB] Stuttgart rather than expecting it but with Panathinaikos,
I am confident we can win and go through to the UEFA Cup. At home we are capable of beating anybody, so that is also in our favour."
Rangers have attracted their critics back home for a lacklustre Champions League campaign and a faltering challenge at the top of the Scottish Premier League. A growing injury list has hindered their progress and De Boer believes that results will improve once the treatment room empties.
We're not playing great but people must realise that we've been missing the spine of our team through injuries to Craig Moore, Mikel Arteta and myself," added the Dutchman. "We would also be a stronger outfit if we had a fully fit Christian Nerlinger and Stevie Thomson. With all those players available, we would have a squad with depth and strength."
Should the Ibrox team make it to Friday's UEFA Cup third round draw then De Boer believes the club have a chance of replicating the achievements of Celtic FC, who reached last year's final. "The UEFA Cup is a tournament in which we can go far," he suggested. "You have some teams in Europe whom we would beat three times if we played them ten times, but those odds would change in the UEFA Cup.
De Boer added: "We showed in our home tie against Manchester United [FC] that we are still capable of giving anyone a game on our day, so although there will still be some strong teams in the competition, we've got to be positive and say that we can make real progress."
Celtic's final appearance against FC Porto proved to be foundation on which their current Champions League campaign has been built. They have fared better, needing a point from their final game at Olympique Lyonnais to reach the knockout stages but De Boer does not necessarily agree that UEFA Cup success will guarantee an improvement in Europe next year.
"I believe that every season tends to stand alone," he argued. "So I would not go along with the theory that if we do well in this year's UEFA Cup it might prepare us for the rigours of next season's Champions League. I simply don't believe it works like that. Look at Stuttgart this year; it is maybe a surprise to them that they are sitting top of the Bundesliga and are in the knockout stages of the Champions League. It is quite possible that they did not expect that. Sometimes, with a team, everything just clicks into place and hopefully that will happen to us if we can get past Panathinaikos on Tuesday night."
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