Scottish clubs need to get behind Rangers’ European campaign

Matias Fernandez’s 88th-minute equaliser for Sporting Lisbon against Rangers last Thursday could prove to be the death knell for Scottish clubs in Europe this year – and for years to come.

With the co-efficient of Scotland’s clubs in dire straits, the SPL need Rangers to progress as far as they can to give Scotland a much-needed rankings boost and regain the two lucrative Champions League spots.

The Gers will face Sporting Lisbon tomorrow in the second leg of the knockout stages of the Europa League after the 1-1 draw at Ibrox, but Rangers will need to score in the Estadio Jose Alvalade to stand any chance of making it through to the last 16.

If Rangers crash out in Portugal, then Scotland could potentially slide further down the rankings pole with Switzerland breathing down their necks.

However, manager Walter Smith has reason to feel confident due to previous encounters with the Iberian side.

During Rangers’ run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, Smith’s men drew 0-0 at home with Sporting before an impressive 2-0 win in Portugal sealed their progress. A tap-in from Jean Claude Darcheville and a solo effort from Steven Whittaker proved to be enough on the night.

Supporters will be hoping that Smith can mastermind a similar result this time round, but Rangers look to be having serious problems in the striking department.

With £4m striker Nikica Jelavic ineligible and Steven Naismith out injured, it looks like Smith will have to persist with Northern Irishman Kyle Lafferty up front.

The much-maligned and unpopular striker has scored just 6 goals in 26 appearances this term, and in over 2 and a half years at the club has only scored 15.

With injuries piling up and the team having suffered a 3-0 loss to rivals Celtic at the weekend, it’s not looking good for Rangers as they try to claw back some co-efficient points.

As it stands, only the winner of this season’s SPL will qualify for the Champions League (and the preliminary rounds at that). Second and third place, along with the winner of the Scottish Cup, will take the Europa League spots.

However, due to other countries slipping up, Scotland are set to regain their two Champions League places for season 2012-13 and move back up the rankings table to 15th place – which would be a welcome financial boost for the participating clubs.

But Swiss clubs are hot on Scotland’s heels and if Rangers fail to get past Lisbon on Thursday then 15th place could be in serious jeopardy.

If Basel and Young Boys, who are both still very much in their respective ties, progress to the last 16 and Rangers do not, then Switzerland will inherit the two Champions League places instead and Scotland will slip even further into the co-efficient abyss.

Thursday’s result could have an impact on the Scottish game for years to come.

Rangers, if they do embark on a European run this season, will probably lose the SPL title and will also miss out on the millions of pounds that come with the Champions League spot. 

This makes it all the more crucial for the Gers to win on Thursday to bring in some much needed finance, and more importantly, some much needed co-efficient points.

Colin Stone

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