Rangers FC may hold the advantage going into their decider against Olympique Lyonnais but Walter Smith warns that it will take something special to advance.
Article top media content
Walter Smith is banking on Rangers FC's formidable home form to see them through to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as Group E reaches its climax with the visit of Olympique Lyonnais to Glasgow. With the two sides level on seven points, Rangers need only avoid defeat to reach the knockout stage thanks to their 3-0 win away to the French champions on Matchday 2.
Ironically, another French club, AJ Auxerre, were the last foreign team to prevail at Ibrox when a 2-0 win on 15 December 2004 knocked Alex McLeish's side out of the UEFA Cup in similar circumstances. Despite Rangers' eleven-match unbeaten home run in UEFA competition, Smith is suitably wary of opponents who will be out to avenge that reverse back in October.
"That statistic is something we obviously hope we can keep up," said Smith. "We maybe caught teams a bit cold earlier in the group, but Lyon's pride will have been dented by losing 3-0 at home in the first game. They'll have a far greater level of motivation for this one, so although we have a really good home record it will still have to be an exceptionally good performance from us to progress."
Lyon coach Alain Perrin agrees about his players' extra motivation, saying: "We're going to have real drive to qualify for the last 16." Yet he is under no illusions about the size of their task. It is four years since Lyon left it this late to qualify for the knockout phase and Perrin admits that all the pressure is on his team. "Rangers are the favourites because they're better placed to qualify. They only need a draw and they have their supporters behind them," said Perrin, who saw his side lose 1-0 at SM Caen on Saturday and is still without Brazilian trio Cris, Fábio Santos and Fred as well as defender Patrick Müller.
Rangers may have enjoyed the luxury of a weekend off to prepare for Wednesday's showdown, but Smith also finds himself deprived of key men with the attacking trio of DaMarcus Beasley (knee), Jean-Claude Darcheville (hamstring) and Nacho Novo (shoulder) all ruled out. Daniel Cousin is expected to be handed a lone-striker role with European specialist Brahim Hemdani deployed in a holding midfield berth as Rangers bid to make the first knockout round for the second time in three seasons.
"We have a lot of work to do in that respect," added Smith. "From a personal point of view, we have to try and hopefully join [city rivals] Celtic [FC] in the last 16, but it will take a big performance from us to do that. Lyon have good players all over the pitch, including a couple of young players [Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa] who will be rated among the best in Europe in the next few years." A big night beckons at Ibrox and Perrin is in no mood to play down its significance. "Obviously I have been involved in big matches with previous clubs but this is the biggest challenge."