Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Champions League: Rangers Crash Out Early

The fortunes of Glasgow Rangers have taken a terrible tumble since the start of May. Three months ago, the Ibrox side were eyeing a historic quadruple, but in the end settled for only two trophies- the Scottish FA and League Cups. Unable to capture the UEFA Cup, and with the reputation of their supporters sullied by ugly behavior in Manchester during the match, Rangers also saw the Scottish Premier League title slip away to crosstown rivals Celtic on the final day of the season. That loss meant Rangers had to face two rounds of Champions League qualifying, rather than enjoy direct passage to the group stages.

Shockingly, Rangers couldn't even pass the first hurdle as they fell 2-1 today to Lithuanian champs FBK Kaunas to lose on aggregate by the same score. The defensive mindset that worked so well for Walter Smith's men in last season's UEFA Cup run was in play again as Rangers protected a 1-0 lead. Even tied 1-1 late, Rangers were still headed through on away goals. But a shocking tally by Linas Pilibaitis (you know him, right?) three minutes from time sent the hosts on to round three.

The loss carries disastrous consequences for Rangers. Not only do they miss out on the lucrative Champions League, but by losing in round two, they don't even get a consolation UEFA Cup berth. That means no European football in 2008-09 for one of Scotland's top two sides, and the resulting lack of financial gain could tip the balance even further to Celtic. However, a full schedule of games down the stretch was one of the reasons Rangers coughed up last year's domestic league title. Now, with no obligations outside of Scotland this season, Rangers may benefit from increased rest and focus.

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