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David Weir joins lofty company as oldest player to grace Champions League

David Weir could bid farewell to the Champions League tonight in Turkey but he will do so by writing his name in the competition's record books.

• David Weir will reach another milestone in his long career against Bursaspor tonight Picture: SNS

Milestones are nothing new to the veteran, who earlier this season became the Scotland international team's oldest ever outfield player. Last season he earned the accolade of Rangers' oldest player to play for the club since the war. He was also the Ibrox's side oldest ever debutant when, nearly four years ago, he played against Dunfermline at the age of 36 years and 236 days.

But he will gain recognition on a wider scale tonight when he equals the Champions League record for being the oldest outfield player, his selection permitting against Bursaspor.

Although the odds are against him managing to claim this distinction for himself he is in good company. He will equal former AC Milan star Alessandro Costacurta's record, set when the legendary defender played for the Italian club against AEK Athens at the age of 40 years and 211 days old.

It is a simple quirk of the fixture calendar which has prevented Weir being out on his own as the oldest ever outfield player. Had Rangers' game against Bursaspor been tomorrow night, then the Scot would have taken Costacurta's crown - by a day. Indeed, it is an extraordinary coincidence which sees Weir, who turned 40 on 10 May this year, managing to equal the record. Costacurta created his piece of history against AEK Athens in 2006. Paolo Maldini, another legendary Italian defender, was 39 when he made his last appearance in the competition for AC Milan. Weir has eclipsed even him.

However, the defender's hopes of becoming the oldest player to play in the Champions League full stop seem slim, since not only will he need to still be playing football when he is 43 years - and 252 days - old but he will also need to rely on Rangers' continuing to qualify for the Champions League group stages. Lazio goalkeeper Marco Ballotta was this age when he appeared against Real Madrid in 2007, and appears set to retain the title for some time.

Even should Weir decide to stay on for what looks likely to be Ally McCoist's first season in charge, it is far from certain that Rangers will get the chance to play Champions League football. This season's Scottish champions will qualify only for the qualifiers next year, rather than be parachuted into the group stage.

Weir is often coy about his future plans and has resisted announcing any plans to retire. However, many predict he will call it a day at the end of this season, when Walter Smith, his manager at both Everton and Rangers, steps down. Smith was also the international manager who persuaded Weir to return to the Scotland fold after a near-three year exile following the 2-2 draw with the Faroe Isles.

Nevertheless, equalling Costacurta's record for outfield players is a notable achievement for Weir. He might have despaired at ever tasting Champions League football when a player with Everton after a Duncan Ferguson header was controversially ruled out by Italian referee Pierluigi Collina against Villarreal in 2005. The goal would have taken the qualifier into extra time but Collina mysteriously ruled it out. Everton had to make do with the Uefa Cup instead. It would be reasonable to imagine Weir, already 35, concluding that his career would end without ever experiencing Europe's premier club competition. But a move back north to Rangers, initially as a loan player, reawakened this possibility.

He made his first Champions League appearance for the club in 2007 against Stuttgart at Ibrox, which the home side won 2-1, and was still excelling at this rarefied level as recently as two weeks ago, when he was one of Rangers' men of the match against Manchester United at Ibrox.

He had succeeded in shackling his former Goodison Park team-mate Wayne Rooney for most of the evening, but watched as the striker sealed a victory for the Old Trafford side from the penalty spot with just three minutes left.

Tonight will be Weir's 16th game in the Champions League. In the current Rangers side, only Allan McGregor and Kenny Miller have played more. But while the match is of significance to Champions League statisticians it will make no impact on the group standings. Rangers have already qualified for the Europa League, meaning Weir's adventures will continue in Europe - just not in the competition he would have preferred. "We knew that both games against Valencia were big games," Weir said. "We knew that they were probably going to be our rivals for second place.

"If you were going to be realistic about the group, they were the games that dictated whether or not you got into the last 16 and unfortunately we never got the results we probably deserved, certainly in the first game."

The last time Rangers dropped down to Europe's second tier competition they reached the final of the Uefa Cup in 2008, only to be beaten by Russian side Zenit St Petersburg in the City of Manchester Stadium. Weir, however, is not contemplating another glory run.

"We haven't thought about that (Europa League] as of yet," he said.

"We are entirely focused on this game and trying to finish this campaign well before we start thinking about that. That will come in due course."

Key battles in Turkey

MADJID BOUGHERRA v SERCAN YILDIRIM

Bougherra will return to the Rangers defence after overcoming a hamstring injury and will look to break forward from the back if Walter Smith has enough defenders to employ his preferred European formation of 5-4-1. But the Algeria defender will have to watch out for Yildirim, the 20-year-old Turkey international who has been linked with a move to Manchester United.

STEVEN NAISMITH v OZAN IPEK

Naismith, 24, has come of age this season after an injury-hit start to his Rangers career, netting nine goals for club and country. The former Kilmarnock player's supporting runs have helped turn Rangers into a decent attacking force in Europe. One of those bursts into the box resulted in the only goal of the game when Rangers and Bursaspor met at Ibrox. Ipek is also an attacking 24-year-old midfielder and scored eight goals last season, but the Turkey international also has the worst disciplinary record in his team.

KENNY MILLER v YAVUZ OZKAN

Miller has scored 19 goals in all competitions this season after revelling in the greater responsibility prompted by Kris Boyd's exit to Middlesbrough, but European goals have continued to elude him. Miller has failed to score in ten Champions League games since returning to Ibrox and will be desperate to put that right. The Scotland striker's final obstacle to breaking his duck will be Bursaspor's second-choice goalkeeper Ozkan, 25, making his Champions League debut.

 
 
 

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