Rangers given Sporting chance

RANGERS will return to the scene of one of their most accomplished continental performances of recent years when they take on Sporting Lisbon in the last 32 of the Europa League.

• Kirk Broadfoot and Allan McGregor celebrate after Rangers' memorable win in Lisbon in 2008Picture: SNS

Yesterday's draw in Nyon paired the Scottish champions, who drop into the competition after finishing third in their Champions League group, with the Portuguese club they defeated on their way to the final of the Uefa Cup three seasons ago.

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Walter Smith's men will be at home in the first leg on 17 February with the return fixture at the Jose Alvalade Stadium seven days later. In the quarter-finals of the tournament in 2008, Rangers were held 0-0 at home by Sporting in the first leg before securing a memorable 2-0 second- leg victory in Lisbon with goals from Jean-Claude Darcheville and Steven Whittaker.

The draw for the last 16 of the Europa League was also made yesterday and, if Rangers can overcome Sporting once more, their reward will be a tie against either Lille, the current French League leaders, or old Dutch foes PSV Eindhoven. Rangers would be away from home in the first leg on 10 March with the return fixture at Ibrox a week later.

It is a path to the quarter-finals which appears reasonably inviting for Smith and his players, who displayed a level of tactical discipline during their Champions League campaign which suggested they are capable of again making a significant impact in the secondary competition.

Thoughts of the final at Dublin's Aviva Stadium in May will remain furthest from the manager's mind, however, as he anticipates a difficult assignment against a Sporting side who now have former Rangers midfielder Pedro Mendes in their ranks.

"We know we will face two really tough games," said Smith, "because they are playing well at the moment and we had to play well to win there last time out."

Despite losing their final fixture 1-0 away to Levski Sofia on Thursday night, Sporting topped their Europa League group. Domestically, their form has been less impressive. They are third in the Portuguese League, already 13 points adrift of leaders Porto, and last week were eliminated from the Portuguese Cup by Vitoria Setubal.

"There is plenty of time between now and the games," added Smith, "so we will have them watched closely and will know what we are up against. Of course Pedro Mendes is there, so we know the quality of player that we face.''

Few players will be anticipating the return to Lisbon more eagerly than full-back Whittaker, whose remarkable solo goal three years ago, picking the ball up in his own half before embarking on a swashbuckling run which ended with his clinching strike, remains a fond memory for the Scotland international.

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"There is no doubt that is the best goal I've ever scored," said Whittaker, "purely because of importance of it and what it meant to the team.To see the ball hit the back of the net was an unbelievable feeling, the best ever, and the atmosphere in the dressing-room afterwards was fantastic. To reach the semi- finals of the Uefa Cup was amazing and it was a terrific away performance from us.

"The ground holds great mem-ories for me and it will be good to go back. It's going to be tough, no matter who we were drawn against we knew that would be the case.

"We will go into the matches with confidence after our performances in the Champions League. We have had a good campaign and I think that other teams would have wanted to avoid us in the Europa League. I'm sure Sporting Lisbon will feel that they could have had an easier draw."

Round of 32

Napoli v Villarreal

Rangers v Sporting Lisbon

Sparta Prague v Liverpool

Anderlecht v Ajax

Lech Poznan v Braga

Besiktas v Dynamo Kiev

Basle v Spartak Moscow

Young Boys v Zenit St Petersburg

Aris v Manchester City

PAOK v CSKA Moscow

Sevilla v Porto

Rubin Kazan v Twente

Lille v PSV

Benfica v Stuttgart

Bate Borisov v

Paris Saint Germain

Metalist Kharkiv v

Bayer Leverkusen

Last 16

Benfica/Stuttgart v

Bate/Paris Saint Germain

Besiktas/Kiev v Aris/Man City

Rubin Kazan /FC Twente v

Young Boys/Zenit St Petersburg

PAOK/CSKA Moscow v


Lille/PSV v Rangers/Sporting

Metalist Kharkiv/Leverkusen v Napoli/Villarreal

Anderlecht/Ajax v Basle/Spartak

Sparta/Liverpool v Lech/Braga