Walter Smith has a history of punching above his weight in European competition that dates back to Rangers’ campaign in the inaugural Champions League back in the 1992/93 season. After knocking out Leeds United in the preliminaries, Rangers missed out on qualification from the a competitive group but more than held there own, impressively drawing twice with eventual winners Marseille.
Under the stewardship of Alex McLeish, Rangers qualified from a tough group in 2005, and were unlucky not to progress further when they were knocked out by Villarreal. It was the away goal rule that prevented them from becoming the first Scottish side to reach the quarter finals of the competition.
Two years later Walter Smith led the side to the Uefa Cup final where they were finally undone by the attacking imagination of Zenith St Petersburg. If Smith is to mastermind qualification to this season’s knock out stage, with arguably a much weaker squad than the Gers had during any of these campaigns, the achievement will be one of the club’s finest.
After a backs to the wall 0-0 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Rangers chances of qualification were helped immeasurably by a 1-0 win over Bursaspor at Ibrox. This result was significant as the Gers had not won in five Champions League group stage home games, managing only two goals during this period. This hinted at the problems surrounding Smiths defensive approach to these games. Rangers did not like taking the initiative at home, but the win over the Turkish Champions suggested more of a flexibility in his approach.
The Glasgow club will have to end another sorry record tonight if they are to triumph as they have not beaten Spanish opposition in European competition in 25 years. With Man United expected to take maximum points from their two games with Bursaspor, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team could well occupy pole position in Group C in a fortnight’s time.
Therefore, tonight’s fixture almost seems like the start of a two legged affair, as the likelihood is either Valencia or Rangers will join United in the knock-out stage. Valencia are a dangerous and accomplished side and will be determined to bounce back following their weekend defeat to Barcelona, but if history has told us anything, it is that both Smith and Rangers enjoy being the underdog.