Malmo ready to catch Rangers cold

By Clive LindsayBBC Scotland Sport
Daniel Larsson (left) and Wilton Aguiar Figueiredo (right)
Malmo strikers Larsson (left) and Figueiredo (right) will pose Rangers problems

Malmo arrived in Glasgow talking up the qualities of Rangers while Swedish journalists talked down the chances of the Scottish champions' opponents and Scottish fans and pundits vented expectations that their own men should have the quality to see off the foreign threat.

We have heard it all before only for the perceived underdogs to walk off with the spoils and glory of progression in European competition.

Malmo face Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday in their Champions League third qualifying round first leg with a cloud of mystery hanging over their season.

Despite retaining virtually the same squad that won the Swedish title last year, they have confounded the critics by presently languishing in eighth place, 13 points behind leaders Helsingborgs, after 17 games.

They lost coach Roland Nilsson to Copenhagen in May, with former AIK Stockholm boss Rikard Norling taking over after a successful spell with second tier outfit Assyriska Foreningen.

And they struggled to overcome Faroe Islands minnows Torshavn 3-1 on aggregate, drawing 1-1 away from home in the second leg.

A series of injuries have been blamed by some for their downturn in form this season and they have also lost Brazilian left-back Ricardinho through suspension for the trip to Glasgow.

Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby revealed that, unlike former team-mate Henrik Larsson, he had not been asked for insights into Rangers by Malmo coach Rikard Norling, with whom he played as a teenager back in their homeland.

"I know their manager, but he hasn't spoken to me and Henrik Larsson's word is as good as mine anyway," he said.

"I don't expect him to give me a ring now. I am not going to say 'no way'.

Daniel Andersson
Ex-Sweden international Andersson will marshal the Malmo defence

"I would tell them what I experienced from last season, but I don't know much about Rangers this season."

Even Mjallby played down the chances of his countrymen against Celtic's Old Firm rivals.

"I have to say that Rangers are crystal clear favourites to go through anyway," he said.

"I don't think Malmo are in the best shape of their history.

"They are in the middle of the table and that is a disappointment for them, for in Swedish terms they are a big club.

"So Rangers should go through for they are the better team and have better players."

However, Malmo can call on several veteran Swedish campaigners, including former national captain Daniel Andersson, although the central defender has now retired from the international scene.

In midfield, they also have Sweden cap Jiloan Hamad, while Jimmy Durmaz recently won his first call-up.

However, the main danger is up front, where Brazilian Wilton Aguiar Figueiredo is viewed as a significant threat when in the mood and teams up with speedy Sweden international Daniel Larsson.

Malmo also arrive knowing that Swedish teams have often given British teams problems in European competition.

In Swedbank Stadion, they have a newly-built compact home ground that could prove intimidating to a Rangers side who will have none of their own supporters with them for the second leg because of a European ban.

Perhaps their trump card, however, is the very fact that they have 17 domestic games under their belt while Rangers have just one - Saturday's disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Hearts.

Not only that, Malmo's latest outing suggested that they could be finding form just at the right time for their trip to Ibrox - a 2-2 draw away to the league leaders.

Their hosts three years ago suffered an early shock European exit at the hands of Lithuanians Kaunas - and Sparta Prague, Levski Sofia and AEK Athens also handed out defeats in the 90s.

Rangers, their players, their fans and pundits once more blinded by insularity have been warned.