Steven Gerrard believes Rangers can cope with both the sweltering conditions and a fired-up Shkupi side in Macedonia this evening as they look to complete their passage to the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
The Ibrox side take a 2-0 lead into the second leg of the first qualifying round tie and manager Gerrard has warned his players to expect a forceful approach by Shkupi at the Philip II National Arena in Skopje where a temperature of almost 30 degrees is forecast at kick-off time.
Gerrard feels that only one away goal for his team will be enough to subdue Shkupi’s hopes of causing an upset.
“We believe one goal kills the tie,” said Gerrard. “We know it is going to be hot and humid, and it may be a tricky surface and a tricky game, but we are ready for whatever gets thrown at us.
“I think the scoreline suggests that Shkupi have to be aggressive. They’re the home team. So it doesn’t make sense for them to be defensive and sit back.
“So we’ll be ready for an aggressive style. They came (to Ibrox) with a game plan to be organised and a team block and to be difficult to breakdown. I respect their game plan at Ibrox but I expect something very different tomorrow.”
James Tavernier’s stoppage-time penalty in last Thursday’s first leg gave Rangers added insurance after Jame Murphy’s opener in the first half.
They have not won a two-legged European tie since 2010-11 when, under Walter Smith, Sporting Lisbon were beaten on away goals in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Gerrard is out to avoid the same fate which befell Pedro Caixinha last season when Rangers suffered a humiliating 2-1 aggregate loss to Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
“The only pressure we feel tomorrow is representing Rangers,” he added. “Because Rangers is a huge football club so every time you represent the club there’s huge pressure.
“The players are used to that pressure, the ones like Daniel [Candeias] who have been around for quite some time. We come into the game with confidence high. We’re really excited.”
Midfielder Scott Arfield did not travel with the Rangers squad yesterday after picking up a minor injury in the first leg. That could mean a first starting appearance for on-loan Liverpool player Ovie Ejaria.
Shkupi head coach Zekirija Ramadan has an injury doubt over midfielder Blagoja Ljamcevski, who limped out of the first leg after an hour, but is upbeat about his team’s prospects of turning the tie in their favour on home soil.
“I am convinced my players will have an excellent match,” said Ramadan. “We haven’t had much time since the first game in Glasgow, just five days, but we’ve tried to regenerate the players to the maximum.
“We hope to improve on the mistakes we made in the first leg. We need to be a little more aggressive in front of the opponents’ goal.”
Shkupi captain and goalkeeper Suat Zendeli believes pulling at least one goal back before half-time will be critical to their chances of upsetting Rangers.
“We won’t make any promises about this game, only that we will fight until the end,” said Zendeli.
“We hope to score in the first half. If we do, then I think the game can go the way we want. We know Rangers are not an easy opponent but we hope it will be a spectacle for our supporters and a very good match.”
The winners of the tie will face either Osijek of Croatia or Moldovan side Petrocub Hincesti in the second qualifying round. Osijek are favourites to win that tie after drawing 1-1 away from home in the first leg. The second leg is in Osijek on Thursday night.