Walter Smith will be hoping to consolidate a solid start to his second spell in charge of Rangers FC when his side take on Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC tonight at Ibrox with a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup up for grabs. While Smith has revived the domestic fortunes of the Glasgow club since taking over from Paul Le Guen at the beginning of the year, the 58-year-old former Scotland manager was disappointed with last week's 2-1 first leg defeat in Israel.
Not only did it represent his first defeat since returning to Ibrox, the reverse also marked the end of an unbeaten 12-game European run matched only by Smith's previous Rangers side of the 1990s when they reached the penultimate stage of the inaugural UEFA Champions League competition in 1992/93. That was as close as he got to a European trophy during his first stint as Rangers manager and with the club out of contention in all competitions on the domestic front, Smith is anxious to prolong their UEFA Cup run - especially with this year's final being played at Hampden Park.
"We want to progress and what will give us motivation is the desire to get into the next round," said Smith. "Rangers have had a terrific run in the UEFA Cup until now and we want that to continue. Everyone wants to be in the latter stages of European tournaments."
Rangers' cause has been boosted with the news that captain Barry Ferguson has shaken off a groin strain and the 29-year-old midfielder is set to make his 63rd European appearance, one short of John Greig's club record. "I'm not usually one for keeping records, but this one would be special to me," said Ferguson.
New signing Kevin Thomson has also recovered from a hamstring injury and could feature in midfield but defender Karl Svensson faces a morning fitness test as he struggles to overcome the groin injury that forced him off at half-time in Sunday's 2-1 win over Falkirk FC. With Ugo Ehiogu also out of contention through injury, Smith might be forced to play French midfielder Brahim Hemdani as an auxiliary centre-back alongside David Weir.
'We are confident'
Meanwhile, Hapoel arrived in Glasgow on Tuesday and coach Nir Levin is confident they can build on their slender advantage to knock Rangers out of Europe. "The result in Israel gives a chance for both teams and everything is open," he said. "We are confident we can play well at Ibrox and progress."
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