Rangers eye pauper's riches

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland in Slovenia
Maribor celebrate an Arghus goal
Arghus (third left) scored against Dudelange in Champions League qualifying

An untimely reminder of just how much of a financial pauper the Champions League's little brother is was served on Rangers the day before they flew to Slovenia to face Maribor.

Figures were released that showed that the Ibrox side's bank balance was swollen to the tune of £16m thanks to their participation in the group stages of Europe's premier club competition last season.

Should they reach their target of the group stages of the Europa League, they won't expect the same renumeration.

A run in little brother tends to bring in about an eighth of the total received for matches against Manchester United, Valencia and Bursaspor.

Not bad when you consider Rangers won just one of those matches.

Rangers manager Ally McCoist took his seat on the plane heading for Maribor and must have been wondering how much of that treasure chest will be his. The fans will be thinking the same.

It is a fortnight since Swedish champions Malmo ended Rangers' dreams of another potential £16m bounty, but the European journey continues in a competition that seems to have brought the best out of them in recent years.

Midfielder Steven Davis, who will be captain in the absence of David Weir, said: "Ideally, we would like to be playing in the Champions League.

"But, ultimately, the fans demand to be involved in some European competition and it's important for us to be involved at that level.

"It's important that we progress to the group stages."

Rangers reached the Uefa Cup final in 2008 and Davis added: "We managed to go on a good run a few years ago and we know what's there for you if you get a good run in the competition."

When the draw was made, the initial reaction from those of a blue persuasion was that it was a very winnable tie, despite the fact that they have just one win in their last 23 European games.

Upon closer examination, the Maribor team they will face in roasting Slovenia is a dangerous animal.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Slovenian champions swept John Hughes' Hibernian aside with minimal fuss, 3-0 at home and 3-2 in Edinburgh.

And, despite having little experience of life beyond the qualifying stages in European competition - they qualified for the Champions League group stage in 1999 - this is a team determined to prove itself on the continental stage.

Exactly a decade ago, Rangers destroyed the same opponents with Claudio Caniggia and Tore Andre Flo doing the damage in a 6-1 aggregate victory.

It is probably fair to say this won't be such a cakewalk.

Maribor - whose only defeat so far this season was a narrow one in Champions League qualifying at Maccabi Haifa - are a side full of Slovnian under-21 internationals banging on the door of the full team.

In captain Marcos Tavares, they have a man who seems to be relishing having the armband and is a prolific scorer.

The 27-year-old was brought to the club by Slovenian legend Zlatko Zahovic three years ago and is already the club's joint top scorer in Europe.

Rangers' Steven Davis
Davis knows the heat will be on Rangers in Slovenia

Three of those nine came against Hibs last summer.

The good news for Rangers is he wasn't their best player against the Hibees. That was Josep Illicic, who impressed again in the subsequent defeat by Palermo - who had Dorin Goian in their line-up - and was promptly signed by the Italian side after only five weeks at the club.

Rangers manager Ally McCoist has sounded out his own new signing and said: "He's got nothing but praise for them, absolutely nothing but praise.

"Especially at home, he said they were very, very good and we will have to look at that as well.

"They've got one or two away from the team from that particular time, but they've got good players and they know their way around a football field, so they will certainly be a threat."

Italy is where Maribor went to sign another Brazilian in the shape of the towering centre-half Arghus, who arrived from Reggina last month.

They have a fairly settled side, with Slovenia international squad members Ales Mejac at full-back, Aleksander Rajcevic at centre-half and Etien Velikonja up front, all likely to start the game on Thursday evening.

It is also a Maribor team who generally score. Only once have they drawn a blank this season on their way to the top of the Slovenian league - in a goal-less draw with second-placed Domzale on Saturday.

A second leg 1-1 draw - as Rangers achieved in Malmo while exiting the Champions League - is always a good result away from home, provided you do the business at home.

Discipline will also be important and, despite the late local kick-off time, heat will be a factor, with temperatures around 30C when the team touched down on Wednesday lunchtime.

The Ibrox side are down to the bare bones at the back, with Weir now joined on the sidelines by Kyle Bartley.

Also left behind are the suspended Sasa Papac and Steven Whittaker - last seen throwing a football at Malmo winger Jimmy Durmaz.

On the plus side for McCoist is the presence here of Lee McCulloch, who could slot in beside Goian in defence, though youngster Ross Perry did himself no harm at Inverness on Saturday when called upon.

Cool heads and good tactics will be needed in Ljudski vrt Stadium heat if progress is to be made.