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Rangers seek solace in Europe

We continue our look at the remaining sides in the UEFA Cup with a mid-season report on Rangers FC.

With Celtic FC having usurped their standing as Scotland's leading club, it will be the source of much satisfaction to the blue half of Glasgow that Rangers FC are the country's sole representatives remaining in European competition.

First success
While Celtic lost on penalties to Valencia CF in round three, a defeat which marked their second narrow exit on the European stage this season, Rangers ensured their fourth-round participation by disposing of Paris Saint-Germain FC by the same method, their first success on spot-kicks in Europe. The victory ensured that in 2002 the club will be competing in Europe past Christmas for the first time in nine years.

Acquaintances renewed
New manager Alex McLeish, who filled the hot seat vacated by Dick Advocaat's move upstairs at Ibrox stadium, is now preparing to renew acquaintances with Feyenoord, after he played in both legs of a 1987 UEFA Cup meeting with the Dutch club during his days as a central defender at Aberdeen FC.

'The tie is winnable'
The Rotterdam club, who will host the 2002 final, triumphed on that occasion but McLeish is confident his new charges are capable of reaching the last eight. He told uefa.com: "I'm sure I'll experience some mixed memories and emotions. But I'm manager of Rangers now and that's all that concerns me - and I'm looking forward to meeting Feyenoord because I think the tie is winnable."

Began in July
Rangers's European campaign began back in July, with a meeting with Slovenian outfit NK Maribor. Argentinian striker Claudio Caniggia scored twice in a 3-1 second-leg win at Ibrox stadium that completed a 6-1 aggregate success and set up a UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie with Fenerbahçe SK.

Key players missing
The Scottish club's hopes of building a first-leg lead ahead of what promised to be testing return match were hampered by the loss of five key players, including captain Barry Ferguson, through injury. The Turkish champions held firm in Glasgow and progressed to the first group stage of the Champions League with a 2-1 home victory, Fernando Ricksen's deflected goal not enough for Rangers in the Sükrü Saraçoglu stadium.

Travel concerns
The loss left Rangers completing another assault on the UEFA Cup, but their hopes of a straightforward passage into the second round were not helped by their first-round pairing with FC Anzhi Makhachkala. Concerned with the Russian side's location, some 160 Kilometres from troubled Chechnya, Rangers did not want to travel to Dagestan.

Neutral venue
Rangers's unease was also felt by UEFA, who switched the tie to the neutral venue of Legia Warszawa's Wojska Polskiego stadium in Poland. A late goal from defender Bert Konterman, another deflection, secured victory in the one-off tie.

Stylish display
Goals from Lorenzo Amoruso, Michael Ball and Ronald de Boer sent Rangers on their way to a first-leg victory in the following round, although Rolan Gusev snatched a last-minute goal to give Dinamo Moscow hope ahead of the return. Advocaat slated his defence for losing their concentration, but he need not have worried as Rangers put in a stylish display to comfortably win 4-1 in the Russian capital.

Two scoreless draws
There was nothing between Rangers and PSG in the third round. The first leg in Scotland finished goalless, Ricksen seeing red, as did the second in the Parc des Princes stadium. With three minutes of extra time remaining De Boer missed a penalty that would have spared both sides the agony of a shoot-out. The game was decided on the 12th penalty when Argentinian defender Mauricio Pochettino crashed his against the crossbar, sparing the blushes of Konterman and Caniggia who had both missed for Rangers.

Deny McLeish again
Advocaat was delighted with the win, especially as 10,000 supporters had made the trip to the French capital. Rangers will need similar levels of support if they are to triumph against a Feyenoord side in round four who have won all their three previous encounters against Scottish opposition, and will be looking to deny McLeish for a second time.