International Soccer
Eleven days to make history

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For a club like Rangers, the success of each campaign can be measured by answering one simple question at the end of the season, and that question pertains to the number of titles won over the previous nine months.

For a team with 14 league crowns in the last 22 years, and seven domestic trebles in club history, it takes a lot to put together a truly historic season, but that is what manager Walter Smith's side will be attempting to do in the span of 11 days.

It has been 36 years since Rangers has appeared in the final of a European Cup competition. The last time came in 1972 when the team beat Dynamo Moscow 3-2 at the Nou Camp in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.

Just like 1972, the club will be facing Russian opposition when they meet Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday in the UEFA Cup final in Manchester.

Unlike 36 years ago, a win in the cup final could be part of a historic season that could potentially see Rangers claim four titles in one year, something the team has never accomplished since it was founded in 1872.

While Rangers has already secured one title - the Scottish CIS Insurance Cup - by beating Dundee United on penalties in March, their quest for three more pieces of silverware will be quite a test of the team's depth and character, which Smith feels will be on display as his team plays five games in 11 days.

Walter Smith's Rangers will be trying to make history.
"To try to get through the season, we have needed a fair number of players in our squad and the proof of that is there for everyone to see," Smith said. "I don't think you would achieve what we are trying to achieve if you didn't have a reasonable number of players to choose from."

The injury list has gotten shorter in recent weeks with only Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith and Chris Burke still sidelined, while Daniel Cousin is suspended for Wednesday's game and DaMarcus Beasley is not on the team's European roster.

This leaves Smith with 21 players to fill 11 spots in the starting lineup on Wednesday, but the manager does not feel that will pose a problem in the locker room because of the team's togetherness.

"When it gets to a stage like this - and I don't just mean Wednesday's game but in the league games we have and the Scottish Cup final too - some people will be disappointed," said Smith. "Sadly that is just one of the things you have to do and you just hope it is accepted in the right way.

"There is a togetherness within the group that allows that to happen and we'll have to disappoint a few on Wednesday. "Any disappointments that any of our boys have had this season, they have accepted very well and that, from our point of view, is a good thing."

Player selection might not pose a significant problem, but the sheer number of games in such little time will certainly be a big obstacle, especially with Rangers getting no help from the SPL.

The league turned down a request from the club to extend the season another week in order to give Rangers time to prepare for Wednesday's final. Instead, the Light Blues will be playing their third game in eight days, while Zenit will have gone 24 days since its last game.

The Russians will be favorites after knocking off Bayern Munich in the semifinals, while Rangers was fortunate to get by Fiorentina on penalty kicks.

From the middle of April into early May, the team was winless in six games in all competitions, which allowed Celtic to get back into the league title race and made life in Europe difficult.

An anemic attack was mostly to blame for the slide, as the club produced just one goal in its last three games prior to scoring three in its last game.

Zenit appears to be the more high-powered side, and Rangers will not be able to pack it in and hope for penalty kicks like they did against Fiorentina.

The team has enough weapons in attack to survive without Cousin because Kris Boyd, Jean Claude Darcheville and Nacho Novo have combined for 33 goals this season, which should give Rangers the ability to get forward more often.

If the team is able to get past Zenit and pick up trophy number two, they then turn their attention back to the league, where three games in six days awaits them.

The first two are away contests at Motherwell and St Mirren, which account for the two games in hand that Rangers has on Celtic. The Hoops currently own a four-point lead on Rangers, but wins in those two matches will put Smith's team up two points heading into the final day, when they will travel to Aberdeen.

If there is anything left after winning the league title for the first time in three years, Rangers will then meet lower-division side Queen of South in the Scottish Cup final.

While this may look like a break for the team, it is no gimme considering that Rangers needed penalty kicks to get past St Johnstone, another lower-division team, in the semifinals.

They will also be at the end of their grueling stretch, which makes you wonder how much they will have left at that point.

No one can doubt the will and character of this team, but the question of how many titles they will bring home remains to be seen.

We will get that answer soon enough, and we will also find out if 11 days is enough time to make history.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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