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By ESPN Staff

Rangers boss Smith looking forward to tough test

Rangers manager Walter Smith believes Barcelona, Lyon and Stuttgart represent precisely the sort of company the club should be keeping.

The Champions League Group E opposition could not be any tougher for Rangers, with the 2006 winners and the winners of the French and German leagues lying in wait.

But Smith, whose side start against Stuttgart at Ibrox on September 19, insists the six matches Rangers face will be a great learning process.

And if they fail to finish in the top two, the Light Blues boss is confident his players will have seen enough to make them want more.

Smith told Rangers' official website, 'It's an extremely tough draw for us but it is simply part and parcel of qualifying for the group phase and there is a great element of glamour about it.

'Barcelona have fabulous footballers, Lyon have remarkable consistency having won the French title for the past six seasons and Stuttgart won the German title on the final day of last season.

'So there is a great standard of teams and it is clearly going to be very hard for us.

'In saying that, it will be a great experience for everyone because this is the stage that everyone wants to be on.

'We are in the group phase and we have some huge games to look forward to.'

Lyon coach Alain Perrin, who replaced Gerard Houllier this summer, expects Barcelona - the tournament favourites - to be hard to catch.

He suggests Rangers are the team least likely to be pressing for second place.

'Behind Barcelona, it's wide open,' said Perrin.

'I think that we'll be competing with Stuttgart. Of course we are aiming for the first knock-out round, I'm not that worried.'

Rangers beat FK Zeta and Red Star Belgrade in qualifying, and the Ibrox clash with Barcelona on October 23, and the return at the Nou Camp on November 7, will be the two dates all supporters are looking forward to.

Barca will be making a quick return to Scotland after facing Hearts and Dundee United during their memorable week-long visit this summer, when they stayed at St Andrews.

Rangers faced Stuttgart in the 2003/04 Champions League, winning at Ibrox but losing away as Alex McLeish's side finished bottom of their group.

Rangers have never faced Lyon or Barcelona in competitive matches, however their trip to the latter's Nou Camp home for the 1972 European Cup Winners' Cup final was notable.

Rangers beat Dynamo Moscow 3-2 but pitch invasions by Scottish supporters at the end of the game resulted in the club being hit with a two-year ban from Europe, later reduced to one year.

David Edgar, spokesman for the Rangers Supporters Trust, said: 'We will just enjoy Barcelona, that's one you will remember for the rest of your life.'