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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Oct 25, 2007

Rae's Say: 'Anti-football' getting results

For supposed exponents of the art of 'anti-football' Rangers are doing quite nicely for themselves in UEFA Champions League Group E.

Quite what Lionel Messi expected from the Ibrox club on Tuesday night, I'm not entirely sure. Did he honestly think Walter Smith's players would just roll over and allow the Catalan kings to tickle their tummies?

The onus is on any side, at every level, to play to their strengths. Luckily for Rangers supporters, they have in Walter Smith, an able football man, who knows how to get the maximum out of his squad: that despite enjoying just a fraction of the transfer budget available to his Barcelona counterpart, Frank Rijkaard.

Smith knew Rangers were never going to succeed in a passing contest with Barcelona. Instead, through highly effective tactics, and a gargantuan effort by every member of the side, they were able to grind out a marvellous result against one of the best club sides in the world.

I had a very enjoyable conversation with the Rangers boss last week at the club's plush Murray Park training ground. Since returning for a second stint at the helm in January, Smith has changed things considerably. Fifteen new faces have been signed, and crucially, the core of the team is once again, Scottish.

So what, you might ask? Does it really matter where players come from in this day and age?

When it comes to a team like Rangers, I believe pride in the shirt plays a big part, especially on highly charged European nights.

Seven Scots started for Smith the other night, and it took a battling Scottish performance to keep the blaugrana at bay. Come to think of it, it wasn't a million miles away from the sort of gritty, disciplined displays we've seen from Scotland in most of their recent European Championship qualifying matches.

Then again, who was the national manager for the early part of that campaign? Ah yes, a certain bloke by the name of Smith.

He stopped short of telling me that 1 point from the 2 games with Barcelona was the target, but rest assured, Rangers know that the return match at the Camp Nou is now something of a bonus game for them. The very worst case scenario has Rangers needing a win on Matchday 6 at home to Lyon, in a bid to qualify for the knockout stages

Not that he needs or seeks the praise, but I think it's heartening that many around Europe are discovering what we in Scotland have known for a long time.

Walter Smith belongs in the very top tier of football managers. Chelsea deserved their 2-0 win against Schalke 04. However, fortune didn't favour the Gelsenkirchen club at Stamford Bridge one little bit.

Coach Mirko Slomka had to make a late line-up switch, with Søren Larsen coming in for the unfortunate Kevin Kuranyi, who had tweaked a calf muscle while warming up. It was a portent of the sort of bad luck, which was to bedevil last season's Bundesliga runners-up.

Slomka looked on in disbelief in the 4th minute, as his young goalkeeper Manuel Neuer let a seemingly innocuous Florent Malouda shot get past him.

Later, Carlos Grossmüller was unlucky to see what looked like a good goal disallowed for offside. On the hour mark, Larsen's header came off the post before landing in the arms of the grateful Petr Cech.

Then near the end, Chelsea defender Alex clearly pulled back Larsen in a manner that would normally have resulted in a red card.

Chelsea were professional and opportunistic, but I can't help feeling Schalke will make it a lot harder for them at the Veltins-Arena: particularly if the likes of Kuranyi and Mladen Krstajic are fit.


A shameless plug here, but it's purely to make sure you keep up with all the key moments from Matchday 3 you understand.

Don't forget, ESPN's UEFA Champions League Highlights programme features action, discussion and plenty of controversy. For those of you in the USA, who often complain to me that viewers in Bermuda have it better than those in Boston, no grumbling please. ESPN2 carries our 60 minute programme, and it's on the air this Friday beginning at 2pm Eastern Time.

Amongst other things this week, we'll debate where it all went wrong for Liverpool in Turkey, and show you Arsenal's 'magnificent seven' against Slavia Prague.

Resident pundits Tommy Smyth and Janusz Michallik will join me in the studio. I invite you to spend the hour with us.


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