UEFA Cup – Rangers battle into quarters-finals
A dogged defensive display earned Rangers a place in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, despite a 1-0 defeat to Werder Bremen on the night.
The 2-1 aggregate victory means Rangers are the only British club to reach the last eight this season – and the first ever Rangers side to reach such an advanced stage of the competition.
It was far from pretty from Walter Smith’s side, but there was no doubting the effectiveness of what they achieved in Bremen.
That Allan McGregor was by far the busiest player on the pitch on the night told its own story, the Gers goalkeeper being called into action on a number of occasions, most notably late on to deny substitute Boubacar Sonogo a certain equaliser.
Rangers showed little desire to go forward all night long and, even though an away goal would have gone a long way to killing off the tie, their objective was to protect their lead, rather than increase it.
The visitors repelled wave after wave of Bremen attacks and held firm at the back until the 58th minute, when there was little their defence or McGregor could do about Diego’s effort.
The highly-rated midfielder broke the deadlock with a wonderful strike, the goal doing much to repair the damage done to his reputation following a poor display last week’s first leg.
When the ball came to the Brazilian on the edge of the Rangers penalty box, he seemed to have few options. But a neat chip over Brahim Hemdani’s head managed to free up enough space to unleash an unstoppable drive into the corner of the net. Suddenly, his reported £25 million price tag did not seem so overly inflated.
But it was to be all Bremen could muster as Rangers – with some real backs against the wall defending – saw out the remaining half hour without being breached for a second time.
Right from the first whistle Bremen, as expected, took the game to Rangers, who barely managed to get out of their own half during the opening 45 minutes.
Bremen looked every bit the side that currently lies second in the Bundesliga, with Diego the architect of most of their forays forward.
McGregor was forced into making three decent stops during what was a hugely one-sided first half – Bremen had over 70% of possession – first to deny Markus Rosenberg and then efforts from Daniel Jensen and Patrick Owomoyela.
But it was not just McGregor’s heroics which held Bremen back during the first half – the hosts themselves were guilty of profligacy in front of goal. Sweden striker Rosenberg was the main offender, lashing wide early on before heading over the bar on 11 minutes, while Tim Borowski volleyed over seven minutes later.
Rangers did manage one effort on the German side’s goal, but Nacho Novo’s first time effort after the Spaniard had run on to Kirk Broadfoot’s long ball was well saved by Tim Wiese in the Bremen goal.
The second half started in the same fashion, with Bremen heaping pressure on Rangers and going straight for their jugular. McGregor again had to be on his toes to make saves from Aaron Hunt and again from Jensen soon after the restart and Mertesacker should have done better with a 51st minute header.
The hosts’ pressure finally told when Diego displayed just why he has been linked with Chelsea, his goal setting up a frantic final half-hour as Bremen sought a goal that would send the tie into extra-time.
Mertesacker again header wide of the mark when he should have done better, and it was to be McGregor who had the final word as he somehow got a fingertip to push Sanogo’s close range effort onto the cross bar with just five minutes remaining.