Ciprian Marica struck five minutes from time as VfB Stuttgart earned their first points of the UEFA Champions League campaign and dealt a blow to Rangers FC's hopes of progressing to the last 16.
Rangers had looked on course for a valuable win on 27 minutes, when less than 60 seconds after replacing Lee McCulloch, Charlie Adam scored with his first touch, lashing in from close range after Carlos Cuéllar had headed in a corner into his path. Cacau equalised on the cusp of half-time, however, before Pável Pardo completed the turnaround on 62 minutes, his fizzing shot taking a slight deflection off Roberto Hilbert as it crept inside the post. Barry Ferguson made it 2-2 but Marica's goal means that Rangers now must get at least a point from their Matchday 6 encounter against Olympique Lyonnais at Ibrox. Stuttgart already knew they could not climb from fourth place in Group E.
The match was preceded with an impromptu dance between Rangers mascot Broxi Bear and his VfB counterpart Fritzle but any amicability was soon forgotten in a committed opening. Rangers could have taken the lead on seven minutes but DaMarcus Beasley scuffed his shot with only Raphael Schäfer to beat, and the home side responded immediately as Hilbert broke and delivered an arcing cross that hit Carlos Cuéllar and looped into the arms of the grateful Allan McGregor.
Box to box
While Broxi and Fritzle had done their pre-match routine, German cruiserweight Firat Arslan was interviewed by the stadium announcer and the end-to-end game had more the tempo of a boxing bout than a waltz. Just as Stuttgart began to threaten, Rangers hit back with a sucker-punch, with Jean-Claude Darcheville surging past Matthieu Delpierre before firing a weak effort into the side-netting. At the other end Ciprian Marica, enjoying a rare start in place of the injured Mario Gómez, sent Cacau clear with a delicate touch but McGregor came to Rangers' rescue, saving with his legs.
True to form, the visitors hit back; Ferguson's shot trickling agonizingly past the upright following a heavy Delpierre deflection. From the resulting corner Ludovic Magnin cleared David Weir's header off the goalline and although McCulloch's injury could have knocked Rangers off their stride, Adam had other ideas. Having lost their previous Group E fixtures it could have been a telling blow yet VfB took stock, and upped the tempo as half-time approached. Cacau and Sami Khedira both had openings before the pressure finally told two minutes into added time, Cacau adroitly flicking in Pardo's driven cross following a short corner.
Rangers' misery was compounded three minutes after the restart as they lost Beasley to injury and Stuttgart took hold of the game. Just after the hour Pardo made it 2-1, but the lead lasted just eight minutes before Ferguson side-footed into the empty net after substitute Steven Naismith had dispossessed Delpierre and sent in a cross that Schäfer could only to palm into the Rangers captain's path. Marica had the last word, however, flicking in Magnin's cross via a Weir deflection.