Werder Bremen 1-0 Rangers: Smith hails McGregor the hero as Rangers hold firm

Werder Bremen 1Diego (58)Rangers 0 (agg: 1-2)

RANGERS last night secured a place in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup as they somehow emerged triumphant from the one-sided second leg of a last 16 tie which will be remembered for the starkly contrasting contributions of two goalkeepers.

Just as Bremen's Tim Wiese's errors at Ibrox last week helped Rangers bring a 2-0 lead with them to the Weserstadion, it was the defiant brilliance of Allan McGregor who ensured Walter Smith's extraordinarily dogged team survived 93 minutes of relentless Bremen pressure.

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Diego's superb second-half strike was ultimately all the Bundesliga side had to show for their efforts but it required a stunning point-blank save from McGregor, touching substitute Boubacar Sanogo's effort onto the crossbar with five minutes remaining to prevent them forcing extra-time.

It was far from McGregor's first stop of the evening, however, and his handling throughout was almost flawless. He was supported ably by a resilient back four and a five-man midfield who were pressed into service as auxiliary defenders for much of the night.

It wasn't pretty, but no-one connected with the Ibrox club will care about that as they look ahead to today's quarter-final draw which sees them in the last eight of a European competition for the first time since 1992-93.

With Diego far more prominent and influential than he had been at Ibrox, Rangers were hemmed in around their own penalty area for lengthy periods. Bremen created plenty of opportunities to get the early breakthrough, but there was a lack of deadliness in front of goal which allowed Rangers to survive a series of threatening situations.

Daniel Jensen flashed a shot across the face of goal when Rangers were unable to clear the first of a procession of Diego corner kicks, then Markus Rosenberg failed to connect from close range after giant central defender Per Mertesacker had headed on another set piece from the Brazilian playmaker.

Bremen were happy to commit as many players to attacking positions as possible and with Nacho Novo finding it difficult to make any impression as the lone striker for Rangers, they were largely able to disregard the possibility of losing an away goal on the counter attack.

Full-back Sebastian Boenisch was the next to pass up an early chance for Thomas Schaaf's team, latching onto a Diego pass before guiding a right-foot shot wide of McGregor's left-hand post.

What Rangers could scarcely afford was making unforced errors and one such mistake by David Weir led to Bremen's next sight of goal, the veteran defender a relieved man when Hugo Almeida headed over from close range after Diego and Aaron Hunt had combined to set him up.

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There was a rare moment of relief for Rangers when Barry Ferguson set Sasa Papac off on a counter-raid down the left, the defender finding Charlie Adam in the penalty area. Managing to engineer a shooting position, Adam saw his effort blocked by Mertesacker.

The action soon relocated to the other end of the pitch, however, and Adam's loss of possession when under no real pressure allowed Hunt to set up a shooting chance for Rosenberg. He provided McGregor with his first test of the evening and the goalkeeper made a fine save at the expense of yet another corner.

A beautifully weighted pass from Diego then allowed Tim Borowski to sneak in behind the Rangers defence, but the Bremen captain sent his first-time volley over the crossbar from close range.

McGregor, predictably enough, was becoming ever more crucial to Rangers' holding onto their two-goal first leg advantage. He was alert enough to clear from Rosenberg after the normally diligent Brahim Hemdani had been short with a passback, made a tremendous save to beat away a fierce shot from Jensen and then turned a long range effort from right-back Patrick Owomoyela behind.

He should have been beaten in the 27th minute, however, when he misjudged a cross from Boenisch and was beaten to the ball by Almeida. It left the Portuguese striker with a free header at goal but he directed it wide of the target.

It was remarkable enough that Rangers reached half-time without sustaining any damage, but they might even have snatched the unlikeliest of leads when Kirk Broadfoot's neat through ball allowed Novo to burst clear of his markers for the first time. The little Spaniard struck his shot from around 14 yards well enough but it was saved, albeit unconvincingly, by Wiese.

For the most part, though, Rangers simply struggled to retain possession for long enough to ease the pressure. Bremen may have been frustrated to reach the interval without scoring, but they were far from discouraged as they began the second half strongly.

McGregor made a fine fingertip save to divert Jensen's rising shot over for a corner which Hunt whipped in from the right, picking out Mertesacker who sent a free header wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post. Carlos Cuellar made a tremendous recovery challenge to deny Almeida a clear shooting opportunity as Bremen began to stretch the Rangers defence, then McGregor was called into action again when he punched away another shot from Jensen.

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Smith decided it was time for fresh legs to be introduced to an increasingly desperate rearguard action, Steven Whittaker replacing Adam who had picked up a booking and a one-match European suspension.

The prospect of him serving it in the first leg of the Uefa Cup quarter-final looked considerably less promising when Werder finally breached the Rangers defence in the 58th minute.

It was a goal of rich quality from Diego, although there was additional irritation for Rangers that it resulted from a poor header on the edge of his own penalty area by Broadfoot. The ball fell to Diego who cutely flicked it inside Hemdani's challenge before unleashing a low left-foot shot from around 16 yards which beat the helpless McGregor low to his left. The tie was now firmly in the balance, but Rangers failed to make the most of an opportunity to put themselves back in the driving seat. Ferguson set Steven Davis off on a counter attack, the midfielder progressing to the edge of the Bremen penalty area before playing the ball wide to Broadfoot.

The full-back tried to pick out Davis but his return pass seemed to stick under the Ulsterman's feet and the chance was lost.