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First impressions to count

Published: Monday 15 September 2003, 21.14CET
Rangers FC and VfB Stuttgart are keen to get points on the board in the Group E encounter in Glasgow.

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Published: Monday 15 September 2003, 21.14CET

First impressions to count

Rangers FC and VfB Stuttgart are keen to get points on the board in the Group E encounter in Glasgow.

By Alex O'Henley

Scottish treble-winners Rangers FC are back in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday night when they entertain Group E rivals VfB Stuttgart in Glasgow.

Double trouble
Rangers return to Europe's premier club competition after a three-year absence from the group stage, having overcome FC København in the third qualifying round. Three weeks after their decisive 2-1 victory in the Danish capital, Alex McLeish's side must overcome injury problems as well as last season's German Bundesliga runners-up if they are to get points on the board at Ibrox.

New faces
The manager has selection problems with Craig Moore, Ronald de Boer and Steven Thompson all out injured. Henning Berg and Zurab Khizanishvili should continue in central defence from Saturday's 4-0 home win against Dunfermline Athletic FC, while two other summer signings, midfielder Emerson and striker Egil Østenstad, should also feature.

Be patient
Whatever the personnel, McLeish expects to have to play a patient game, with Stuttgart relying on counterattacks - and the Rangers fans needing to understand the demands of European football on their players.

Cat and mouse
"Having studied the Champions League, it's very much cat and mouse," said McLeish. "Stuttgart will rely on the counterattack and we have to be careful we don't go too gung-ho. I would appeal to the Rangers fans to be patient. There will be times when Stuttgart have good possession, but we shouldn't panic because that can be transmitted to the players."

Back in favour
For Rangers midfield player Christian Nerlinger, the game will be an opportunity to show his fellow countrymen that he is still capable of performing at the top level. The former German international has had a wretched time with injuries in his two years at Ibrox, but should feature against Stuttgart. "It's a long time since I've played in a game like this," said Nerlinger. "A win would be a fantastic way to start our Champions League campaign."

In the mood
Nevertheless, Stuttgart flew into Glasgow on Monday confident of gaining at least a draw. The German side lost to Rangers' city rivals Celtic FC in last season's UEFA Cup, but coach Felix Magath sees a much-improved outfit now. "We had a very young team last season and for many of our players it was their first experience of European football. I'm sure they will play a more clever game against Rangers. It will be a good game with two teams who want to go forward and score goals"

Point made
The hosts should also note that Stuttgart, with three wins and two draws from five matches, are yet to concede a league goal this season. On Saturday, they held FC Schalke 04 to a stalemate - leaving Magath to comment: "We played very well defensively and a team that can get a point in Schalke can also achieve something in Glasgow."

Stuttgart ambition
That defensive template could be disrupted by injury to Marcelo Bordon, who is likely to join Steffen Dangelmayr, Michael Mutzel and Timo Wenzel on the absentee list. However, Bordon's colleague Fernando Meira remained undeterred, saying: "The first game is very important and we want a good result here. Manchester United [FC] are the strongest side in our group but Stuttgart, Rangers and Panathinaikos [FC] are all capable of going into the next round."

Last updated: 16/09/03 12.42CET