first team / Rangers - OL D-1

Heaven or Hell?

Published on the 11 December 2007 à 17:12 by R.B

OL has no alternative but to win if it wants to go through to the knockout phase. The Olympiens know what they need to do at Ibrox and while the mission may not be impossible, getting an away win at this stage of the competition would be a massive first for OL…

The first time the two sides met this season, it was all Rangers. What a disappointment October 2, 2007 was! McCulloch, Cousin and Beasley crushed the OL fans’ euphoria. But OL was generous in the worst sense of the word, lacking precision in its game and failing to convert chances:31 shots without a single goal! A real clanger, just like the one in Barcelona before it.

48 hours later, OL President Jean-Michel Aulas made his displeasure known. Since then, the 6-time French champions haven’t lost a game in this group phase, assuring themselves of at least a consolation prize: UEFA Cup qualification. Now they just need to secure their 5th consecutive knockout phase appearance in the Champions League. A challenge as big as their hopes.

The Scotsmen of Rangers, who were so brilliant in the first half of the group phase, winning 7 points (2 wins and a draw), then went on to some poor form, losing to both Barcelona and Stuttgart. Good things always come in threes, or so the saying goes… let’s hope so. In playing this match at home, the Light Blues will be able to draw on the fervour of their fans. “The match against OL will be a great night…” That’s how Rangers manager Walter Smith finished his press conference after the defeat at the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium. He knows that his side has in terms of results, a 2 out of 3 chance of qualifying.

And they will have an advantage right from the start; they’ll be able to sit back and wait in order to better catch their opposition on the counter, a style they would appear to be suited to. Let’s not forget that, in the first match, Rangers camped around their area, their forwards only pushing up as far as 26m from their own goal line! And needless to say, once they scored the first, their job got easier and easier.

[IMG42758#R]So OL has no choice. How to play then? How do they score a goal and then another? Benzema, Ben Arfa, Juninho, Govou and Källström… can beat McGregor. Juninho’s free kicks are a considerable weapon in OL’s arsenal. In fact, set pieces will important. So will Toulalan’s omnipresence in the midfield. And the whole side needs to make sure it attends to its defensive duties first and foremost. Will there be an aerial battle? Can OL’s potent strike force trouble the Scottish defenders… but more importantly, the keeper? Ibrox often turns into a hellish space, on the field and in the stands, but OL has the weapons to prevail.

So it’s a tantalizing opportunity for Vercoutre and co, some of whom will remember going down 2-0 to Celtic in 2002-03. Réveillère, Juninho and Govou were starters; Vercoutre was on the bench. While OL played well in the first half, notably through Coupet, they let go in the second half and allowed two crosses to be headed home for two goals… How could they forget?

This kind of double or nothing situation often makes for thrilling matches to experience and relive afterwards. This double or nothing, that every single OL fan is willing towards the ‘double’ option, would be a huge away first for OL in the Champions League. It would secure them a spot among Europe’s greats, a place OL has inhabited regularly since 2003-04. So, gentlemen… ‘double’, if you please!
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