DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Maurice Edu and Rangers saw their Champions League hopes take a major nosedive on Tuesday, shockingly losing to Swedish team Malmö FF in Glasgow to set up a difficult return leg next Wednesday.
Rangers FC 0 - 1 Malmö FF
It was at this exact same stage of Champions League qualification three years ago that Rangers were kicked out of the competition by unfancied Lithuanian team Kaunas in one of the most humiliating upsets in club history.
With a similarly overmatched Malmö FF squad standing in their way of reaching the group stage this time around, the team of brand new head coach Ally McCoist gave the few fans who bothered to show up to the half-full stadium a sense of deja vu in their unexpected defeat.
The hosts were immediately shown that they would be in for a tough time within one minute of the opening whistle, when Daniel Larsson broke through the defense and tried a shot that was just wide of the target.
Any hopes of an easy walk in the park were successfully put to rest by the plucky Swedes in the 18th minute, as a Steven Whittaker turnover at the left edge of the box led to their opening score.
Jimmy Durmaz hit a short pass to Wilton Figueiredo who was just to the left of goal, and the Brazilian heel-flicked it back to Larsson for a 12-yard rocket which would have taken the arm off of Allan McGregor had he even managed to get reach the upper left corner.
The 30th-minute removal of ancient team captain David Weir did little to spark any quick comeback before the break, sending the hosts into the locker room at halftime to a deserved cacophony of boos.
The visitors almost doubled their lead much to the horror of the home crowd, as Figueiredo's free kick was barely tipped over the bar by the outstretched McGregor in the 49th minute.
Rangers wastefully blew a perfect opportunity to pull even in the 67th minute as Nikica Jelavic hit a cross in great position for Steven Naismith to easily knock into the net, however his shot was wide and posed no danger to the Swede lead.
Jelavic and Naismith tried to get it right a second time two minutes later with almost the exact same play, but again, the latter was inexplicably unable to put his shot on frame.
Rangers increased the pressure on their visitors as the game wore on, however their lack of bite and crispness in the final third along with Malmö's continued danger on the counter-attack left the rest of the game at a stalemate, with the referee's final whistle finally confirming the huge upset for the Swedes after two minutes of added time.
The result immediately puts pressure on both Rangers and their new coach from several fronts. For McCoist, beginning his tenure by failing to win in his first two games will surely not endear him to club fans or management. For all involved, they must now win the return leg in Malmö on Wednesday if they hope to reach the final play-off round to reach the group stage.
Making matters worse for the team is a complete travel ban on their fans for the game in Sweden as a result of sectarian singing in European matches last season.
In the meantime, they have only a scant few days to get their affairs in order before returning to Scottish Premier League action, with the short trip to St. Johnstone FC awaiting on Saturday.
Freddy Adu is not taking part in team activities with parent club SL Benfica Lisbon, and will not play any role on Wednesday when they face Turkush runners up Trabonspor in Lisbon.