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Europa League round of 16 draw

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Rangers pick up a favourable draw

There's a saying in Glasgow which insists that God was an atheist. That way, he could inflict equal amounts of opprobrium on either side of the great divide. It could serve as a microcosm of the confirmation that Rangers had drawn Manchester United, Valencia and Bursaspor in the qualifying round of the Champions League.

The reaction to the news was typically downbeat, almost as if the Ibrox club should admit their embarrassment at being pitted against Sir Alex Ferguson's side in the preliminary rounds of the event. But actually, this was as favourable a draw as any Scottish club could have expected.

It could have been so much worse if the Ibrox faithful had been pitted against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Chelsea; opponents who have the pace, individual brilliance and component parts to destroy lesser rivals with a humiliating disregard for history or heritage. Just imagine the mayhem which might have been sparked by a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo dancing rings round the likes of David Weir, Kirk Broadfoot and Sasa Papac - perhaps the Turks of Bursaspor will conspire to inflict similar damage to the Scottish league as the little-heralded Unirea did last time around - but Rangers should be grateful UEFA has handed them a straightforward slice of the action.

In fact, they may do better than simply make up the numbers. Possibly it might be a Micawberish optimism, but it seems that Rangers have drawn Man Utd at exactly the right time. The Old Trafford men appear to be overly reliant on ageing warriors such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, while Wayne Rooney has both gone off the boil, and lost the knack of securing goals in the games that really matter.

On the basis that form is temporary, class is permanent, Rooney is the sort of individual who might re-discover his genius in a positive orgy of scoring, but the longer that his drought carries on, the more difficult it might be for him to settle back into any type of groove. And, even if we acknowledge his multi-faceted array of gifts, Rooney is as vulnerable to the fickle traits of fortune as the next man. The bottom line is that Rangers could have been pitted against the sort of opponents who might have ripped their fragile defence to shreds; as it is, they have to tackle a Manchester collective, who are, at best, a poor shadow of the organisation which used to take trophy-snaffling for granted.

Of course it isn't easy, but the bottom line is that Sir Alex Ferguson will be under considerably more pressure than his opposite number, Walter Smith. The former seems to think that he can continue to challenge for the highest European honours - dream on! - while Smith recognises that he has been dealt a meagre hand by the master dealer in the grand scheme of things.

Rangers, even by their own admission, are a limited force. They are reliant on a man over 40, David Weir, as one of their pivotal performers. Smith knows that it is only a matter of time before the leading lights in England and Europe come calling in a bid to pilfer the talented Streven Davis away from Ibrox. Even at his prolific best, Kenny Miller is never likely to threaten Messi, Ronaldo and Scholes in the ranks of the super strikers. But, at least, the prospect of taking on Manchester United doesn't induce a dose of the vapours.

Rangers should be grateful that they have avoided the serious big hitters in the Champions League circus. Let's forget about "Battles of Britain" for an instant and focus on the here and now. If that transpires and Smith's personnel perform to their potential, it is not that difficult to conceive of them beating Manchester United and particularly in Glasgow. And, if that happens, Rangers will have an excellent chance of making it out of the group stages. Anything better would be a spectacular bonus.


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