Rangers earned the sweetest of stalemates at Ibrox last night – in the face of constant pressure from some of Europe's finest individual talents – to maintain their odds-defying start in the Champions League and move a step closer to the knockout stages.
Unbeaten in Group E after three games, and behind leaders Barcelona this morning only on goal difference, Walter Smith's side could even afford to lose their next two matches – in the Nou Camp, and in Stuttgart – and still have their fate in their own hands when ending against Lyons at home.
Smith, reflecting on how far his side have come – and so quickly – since he took over earlier this year, said: "In January, Rangers got knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Dunfermline, who were then relegated. Now we're keeping pace with one of the best teams in the world. If we qualify, it will be a great achievement... We are exceeding even our own expectations."
Statistics tell one side of last night's one-sided story: Barcelona had 66 per cent of the possession, 17 shots and 10 corners, while Rangers had 34 per cent of the ball, three shots and four corners. But numbers alone cannot express Rangers' work-rate, defiance and defensive cohesion, in numbers for long spells. The hosts might even have snatched victory late on. They also kept Barca's chances to efforts from distance, many of which went awry. "I was delighted with both the performance and the result, which was a great one for us against such opponents," Smith said.
His counterpart, Frank Rijkaard, said: "We started well and had good possession but couldn't score. My team played well but Rangers defended well. I think they are a good, strong team. It is quite possible they will go through."
Smith started with the same 11 players who triumphed 3-0 in the Old Firm derby on Sunday. Rijkaard made three changes to team that lost 3-1 on Saturday at Villarreal, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Ronaldinho and Lilian Thuram coming in. Rangers' captain, Barry Ferguson, gave early notice his team were not just here to hang on, back-heeling a pass to start a move that ended in a Rangers corner.
Play quickly switched, Henry and Ronaldinho attempting a one-two on the edge of the box before Carlos Cuellar blocked for a corner. Xavi Hernandez swung it in and Gudjohnsen headed over. Barca got closer when Henry set up Lionel Messi. Cuellar cleared from the line. Ronaldinho snuck in. Sasa Papac pinched the ball off his toes. Adam fouled Ronaldinho, conceding a free-kick 30 yards out.
The Brazilian took it. Jonny Wilkinson would have been proud: it was dead centre between the posts, and 20 feet high. Ronaldinho, Carlos Puyol and Henry went closer. Ferguson was inches from a winner but could not make contact. Both sides held on, one rather more happily.
Rangers (4-5-1): McGregor; Hutton, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Novo (Beasley, 72), Adam, Ferguson, Thomson, McCulloch; Cousin. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Boyd, Broadfoot, Whittaker, Naismith, Faye.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Thuram, Milito, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Iniesta, Gudjohnsen; Messi, Henry (Giovani, 82), Ronaldinho. Substitutes not used: Jorquera (gk), Sylvinho, Ezquerro, Oleguer, Crosas, Krkic.
Referee: K Plautz (Austria).
Results: Barcelona 3 Lyons 0; Rangers 2 VfB Stuttgart 1; Lyons 0 Rangers 3; VfB Stuttgart 0 Barcelona 2; Rangers 0 Barcelona 0; VfB Stuttgart 0 Lyons 2.
Remaining fixtures: 27 Nov: VfB Stuttgart v Rangers; Lyons v Barcelona. 12 Dec: Barcelona v VfB Stuttgart; Rangers v Lyons.