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Rangers FC welcome 2004 winners FC Porto for their opening UEFA Champions League Group H encounter with the two sides experiencing contrasting domestic fortunes.
The Scottish champions were held 1-1 at Premier League newcomers Falkirk FC at the weekend and lie fifth, eight points behind early pacesetters Heart of Midlothian FC. Manager Alex McLeish had some harsh words for his players on Saturday, but expects to see an improvement against the Portuguese leaders, who have won all three Liga fixtures so far.
"It's look-in-the-mirror time for everyone," said McLeish. "I'm sure the players are all disappointed and they know the consequences of bad results at a club like Rangers. I believe we'll get a reaction against Porto and the players who have great experience at this level will come good."
McLeish knows his opposite number Co Adriaanse from last season when Rangers lost 1-0 at AZ Alkmaar in the UEFA Cup group stage. Alkmaar went on to a semi-final against Sporting Clube de Portugal before Adriaanse became the fourth successor to José Mourinho at the Estádio do Dragão. Only three players remain from Porto's triumph of 2004 and one of them, striker Benni McCarthy, missed the journey to Glasgow on Sunday after a breach of club discipline.
Despite the changes in personnel, however, McLeish claims Porto remain a force to be reckoned with and will pose a considerable threat at Ibrox. "Porto are a right good side, don't let anyone kid you that they're not," he said. "Every player is technically capable, they have good movement, good speed in the team and they are one of the top teams in Europe. If the coach is confident his team can play without McCarthy, then I can't argue with that. He knows his team better."
In their most recent Champions League campaign two seasons ago, Rangers got off to a perfect start with a 2-1 home victory against VfB Stuttgart, but finished fourth. McLeish has since strengthened his squad with the return of captain Barry Ferguson from Blackburn Rovers FC and the acquisition of players with Champions League experience such as French duo José Pierre-Fanfan and Julien Rodriguez.
Good start wanted
Winger Peter Løvenkrands said another bright beginning was vital. "If we can get three points that would be absolutely amazing and would take a lot of pressure off the boys," he said.
In contrast to Rangers, Porto have enjoyed a strong opening to their domestic campaign, the latest of their victories being a 3-0 home success against Rio Ave FC on Saturday. Adriaanse is likely to replace McCarthy with Tomislav Šokota or Hugo Almeida, and even without the injured Hélder Postiga, the coach is confident his side can perform well enough to take three points at Ibrox.
Winning in Glasgow
"We have scored seven goals without McCarthy in the team this season," said the Dutchman. "It will be very difficult but we have come here to win. I already know what it's like to win in Glasgow because I came here with [AFC] Ajax a few years ago and beat Celtic [FC] 1-0 in a qualifying tie although we lost 3-2 on aggregate."
"Porto are improving," warned captain Pedro Emanuel. "Although Rangers are playing at home, we are confident our results in Portugal will help us get a good result in Glasgow."
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