Destiny awaits Ibrox heroes

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IT wasn't exactly an impassioned vow to go toe-to-toe with the young flyers of Zenit St Petersburg but Walter Smith has indicated that the ultra cautious approach of his Rangers team on the road to Manchester will now be tweaked somewhat.

Smith stressed that his men will have to carry more danger in attack at the City of Manchester Stadium on Wednesday night if they hope to lift the UEFA Cup. It may not see an alteration in his personnel, or even in his formation, but in the mind-set of his players there will be a change, he said.

"I'd hope we can cause Zenit a problem," Smith began. "There's a slightly different mentality involved in terms of a final rather than a two-leg game. Our approach will be slightly different from some of our other games. In our other games I make no apologies for being defensively based but we know in a final you must threaten, we must be aware of that factor. You've got to extend yourself a bit. There's been a lot written about (the defensive side of] Rangers this year but in the majority of our SPL games we have pushed forward, we've scored a fair number of goals. We were top goalscorers in the league for long spells until Celtic got four against Motherwell just recently. So we've got goals, we have the capability."

For a team with a reputation for being the Steady Eddies of the SPL, Rangers had scored 77 league goals before yesterday compared to 61, 67, 78 and 76 in the entirety of the previous four championships. So Smith is right on that front. They have the wherewithal to strike once the shackles are loosened.

They have made heavy weather of recent SPL games but the dynamic changes now. Domestically there is horrendous pressure on them, a huge burden to bang out the victories against teams that are set up to defend. That's not going to be the case in Manchester. Zenit, for one thing, did not get where they are by keeping things tight at the back.

They are a free-flowing side that make and concede plenty of chances.

They have scored 29 goals in their 16 games in this UEFA Cup run but have given up 15. Their great strength is in the devil of their attacking players, Andrey Arshavin (four goals and eight assists in the UEFA Cup), Konstantin Zyrianov (seven assists) and the €15m man Anatoliy Timoshchuk rather than in the work of their defenders.

They are also favourites. Any team that buries Bayern Munich 4-0 in the semi-final will not be expected to lose. As such, Rangers should be a bit more relaxed than they might be in a must-win domestic war. If the burden of pressure lies mostly on Zenit it's a load they must carry without the help of Pavel Pogrebnyak. The striker, surely destined for the elite leagues any time now, contributed 10 goals in the UEFA Cup this season, including two in the rout of Bayern and four more in the four games against Villarreal and Marseille in earlier rounds.

There's been much talk of the Rangers fixture pile-up ahead of the final but arguably the far more significant factor in the big picture is Pogrebnyak's absence in Manchester through suspension. The loss of the goals machine is an enormous blow to Zenit. No wonder Dick Advocaat has had so much to say about the damage wreaked on the Rangers challenge by the SPL. Better to highlight the problems of your opponents rather than air your own personal agony of losing your best player for one of the biggest games of your life.

Smith will spend the next few days looking for angles, for chinks in the Zenit armoury. He may find one in their discipline, or lack of it. They have gathered a damaging amount of yellow and red cards on their way to the final – six yellows and two reds in the second leg of the Villarreal Round of 32 game alone – and the chickens came home to roost in the case of Pogrebynak. It has to be a concern for Advocaat.

They are very different teams, the finalists, but one thing does unite them. They are ferociously dogged. We've known this about Rangers for many months but Zenit have no shortage of character themselves. They are not flat-track bullies by any means. Witness that victory over Marseille in the Round of 16.

The first leg was in France and by the 55th minute Zenit trailed 3-0. To eventually emerge from that tie was something of a miracle. It points to a strength of character that is reminiscent of the Ibrox side. But, then, they had Pogrebynak in the team at that point. He scored a double in the second leg.

Smith hadn't started studying Zenit when we spoke on Friday. Too much local business to get through first. But he did have rallying words for the troops. "I said the other week that I thought we deserved to get to the final for all the hard work we put in but every team will feel that. Every manager will feel they deserve to be in the final. But we've maybe had to go a wee bit extra to overcome the fact that we've not played together for a number of seasons. Normally when a team makes a final they have a pedigree of some kind of success or achievement. We've not had that. It's been a tough season physically for everybody.

"The result we achieved in Belgrade to allow us to qualify for the Champions League gave us a great deal of confidence in the early part of the season. That has been a huge thing for us. The realisation that we could go away from home, into a hostile environment and come away with a result. That was huge, not just in terms of finance but in terms of giving the team a lift."

He looks back over the run and sees some landmark moments, some of the best of them involving a man who will be missing on Wednesday night. Smith, Barry Ferguson, Davie Weir and others have spoken this week of what Allan McGregor has done for the team in Europe this season. "All the (injured] boys are coming with us but it doesn't make up for it.

Allan's made an enormous contribution to the team. His form has been terrific and he's been a big factor in us still being involved in these competitions at this stage of the season. I feel for a player when that happens. You know from your own experience that this type of situation doesn't occur very often. He certainly deserves to be involved, but that's football. That's the disappointment he has to take on the chin."

The key point in all of this, the critical few seconds, came in Bremen in the closing minutes of a game in which Rangers used up so many of their nine lives. The Save, as it seems to be known at Ibrox these days, was a thing of wonder. "I couldn't believe it," said Smith, of McGregor's acrobatics that kept Rangers ahead on aggregate. "Sitting in the dugout I thought the boy missed it. I thought if he'd put it on target he'd have scored. When you see the save, it's fantastic. At that stage, had we lost a goal, we'd have been under the cosh in terms of having to hold out. You can pick a load of instances over the season but there were certain moments that become defining moments and that was certainly one of them."

Will there be another on Wednesday? And if it falls Rangers' way how will Smith rate the personal achievement of winning a European trophy? As good as the nine-in-a-row (he was directly responsible for six titles)? Better? "Considering the number of times a Scottish team has managed to get to a final and the number of times they've managed to win, it would certainly rank among the best if we were to win on Wednesday, if not the best."

Somebody once said that history admires the wise but elevates the brave. It's a line that has a certain resonance with Smith this week. He's been wise in getting his team this far but to finish the great work he has started, bravery is now required – and judging by his words, he knows it.

Winning in europe

Billy McNeill

Celtic 1967

European Cup

There is a general belief that I got the nickname Caesar after standing up in the Lisbon stand to get the trophy. This is not so. A group of us jokingly formed ourselves into a Sinatra-style 'rat pack'. I was nicknamed Cesar Romero because I was the only one with a car!

It was a great feeling being up there to take the cup but annoying I didn't have the team to go back to on the pitch. The crowd invaded the pitch, though it was all very friendly. There was no chance of anyone being hurt but my team-mates were taken to the dressing room. I walked through the crowd to get there but was taken round the stadium in a police car on the way back.

When people talk about pitch invasions nowadays it means a serious interruption but this wasn't the case in Lisbon. The supporters were wandering about in sheer delight.

I had swapped jerseys with one of the Italians but that disappeared. Everything, in fact, went but we didn't really care. As we were travelling into Lisbon for the medal presentation which should have taken place on the pitch, Portuguese supporters were driving past laughing and waving strips and boots that had been ours only a short time before. Anything that was lying about was nicked. It was fair game for souvenir hunters.

Extract from Back To Paradise by Billy McNeill with Alex Cameron

John Greig

Rangers 1972

European Cup-Winners' Cup

It is hard to take that after Celtic were able to celebrate as much as they liked in Lisbon, our club and supporters were denied a post-match presentation because the Spanish police completely misunderstood the fans' on-field invasion at the end.

I played with a stress fracture in my foot. A guy jumped on it late in the final and I ended up with another fracture on the other side, but the euphoria kept the pain away until I was called down to this little room to receive the trophy.

It all passed in a blur, but I hobbled down there in agony with our manager Willie Waddell and a UEFA delegate and, in this cramped corner covered in Barcelona memorabilia, the delegate handed me the trophy and basically said: "Here, take the cup Glasgow Rangers, now go away".

When I got back to the dressing room all my team-mates were either in the bath or out of it. I felt sorry they didn't get to parade the trophy – ultimately what we were playing for – and even sorrier for all those people who had a paid a lot of money to travel to the Nou Camp and see that.

When we arrived back to Scotland it was pouring rain. We went round Ibrox in an open lorry and the place had about 30,000 in it. But we couldn't right the earlier wrong because lots of the fans weren't yet back from Barcelona.

Willie Miller

Aberdeen 1983

European Cup-Winners' Cup

I suppose it was a sign of the times but I remember thinking about the best way to lift a trophy. Early on I'd tried it with the traditional two hands a couple of times but more often than not when the pictures appeared in the paper my face was obscured by the Cup. I thought to myself, 'there must be a better way of doing this'. I wanted my lovely features and flowing hair to be in the middle of the shot. Well, kind of.

The way I did it in Gothenburg was not unique. I'd done it that way before. I've read over the years that it's a kind of iconic image, that I looked like an emperor, but the truth of it was that I just wanted to come up with something a little different, something that made sure my mug was in the frame. That final was obviously the pinnacle. In that picture, there's just a lot of pride and self-belief that, yes, we knew we were good enough and, yes, we got the job done against one of the great superpowers of European football.