Expectations Rise For Rangers
The fans are getting excited and there is a growing sense of optimism that a last 16 place could be secured.
Those inside Ibrox, meanwhile, are rightly remaining grounded and are not proclaiming any outrageous or ambitious plans.
The narrow victory against the Turkish champions Bursaspor is an excellent result for Rangers, and they now sit proudly at the top of the group with Manchester United on four points.
Valencia are poised just one point behind after losing a late goal against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but more importantly, Bursaspor are pointless, goalless and four points adrift of the Ibrox side.
Before the competition kicked off a little over two weeks ago, many Scottish media outlets had written off Rangers hopes of achieving anything from Europe this year. Despite being known for unnecessary negativity, they were correct in their opinions this year.
Scottish football has struggled for any sort of respectability over the last couple of years, and the group Rangers were pitched in looked like a tough one. Last year’s dismal performances and results against arguably a weaker section led many to believe Rangers were just here to make up the numbers, collect their healthy looking cheque and stagger off home to the SPL.
However, Walter Smith’s ultra negative approach is paying dividends once again.
Ok, it would be foolish to claim that Rangers have all but secured third spot in the group, with second easily attainable. You only need to look back to their campaigns in 2000 and 2007. Here, Rangers started well – winning both their opening games but still failing to qualify for the last 16.
And the same could happen again. Back in 2007 they lost their last three games after picking up seven from the opening ones. Looking at the four games left, there is a chance that they could lose them all.
However, Bursaspor did not look like the team they were built to be last night. They looked bereft of attacking talent and never once looked likely of even testing Allan McGregor’s goal. With a double header against Manchester United coming up, followed by a trip to the Mestalla to face Valencia, it is difficult to see where they will collect the points required to topple over the Scottish champions
So going from this, Rangers should be odds on favourites to finish in a Europa League spot. This would be a good achievement, especially after the disastrous run from last year.
But they shouldn’t just stop at that. While many will scoff at the idea of having dreams for better, they are just jealous of the unexpected initial success from the Ibrox side. What is wrong with aiming for the dizzy heights? If you come up just short, you still land with a prize more than acceptable for most.
The next two matches against Valencia, obviously, are crucial, and they will present Smith’s troops with the opportunity to create a bit of history inside Ibrox. Two draws would, in actual fact, be another fantastic feat. It would keep them ahead of their Spanish rivals going into the last two games, and the home clash against Manchester United would have an extra dimension attached to it.
And Rangers are capable of doing it.
Any side that goes to Old Trafford and wins a point must not be taken lightly. The way Rangers are set-up this year, similar to the UEFA Cup run two and a half years ago, means they can go anywhere and get a result.
And if this Rangers side can achieve the improbable, then it will give Scottish football a great lift. One it desperately needs.