Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Bougherra welcomed back at Rangers

Rangers manager Walter Smith insists he has no qualms about drafting Madjid Bougherra back into his squad for the Champions League clash with Unirea Urziceni after the player went AWOL last week.

The defender missed Saturday's Clydesdale Bank Premier League victory at St Johnstone after returning late from international duty with Algeria, with Smith revealing afterwards he had been offered no explanation by Bougherra for his absence.

Since then the Rangers boss has held talks with the centre-half and accepted his claims that a bag containing his passport and mobile phone were stolen in Paris while en-route to Glasgow on Thursday.

Bougherra has already proved his worth in the Champions League this season, netting the equaliser which helped Rangers claim what could be a crucial point from their opening match in Stuttgart.

A less than convincing performance from the Scottish champions in his absence at the weekend would have strengthened further his case to face Unirea and Smith is now determined to draw a line under the episode.

“I spoke to him and accepted his explanation about the problem he had and he is back in our squad,” said the Rangers boss.

“We are obviously pleased that he is back in the squad. We hadn't envisaged the problem he would have coming back from Algeria last week.

“But that's finished with now and we just look forward to getting him back on the pitch.”

Smith was furious with the performance of referee Jonas Eriksson in their last European outing against Sevilla, accusing him of “opting out” of awarding a penalty when the game was deadlocked, before Rangers went on to lose |4-1.

He is now hoping for some lucky breaks when they host the Romanian champions at Ibrox tonight.

“You always need decisions in games that are going to be tight games,” said Smith, who will also have Pedro Mendes available after the midfielder passed a fitness test yesterday.

“You need a bit of luck decision-wise and we didn't get that in the Sevilla game. Hopefully if one like that comes along, we can get that one.

“From our point of view, the importance of tonight is that we reach the level that we've played at.

“Our best performances this season have been for an hour against Stuttgart and also the first hour of the game against Sevilla.

“Hopefully we can take the good parts from the European games we have had and take them into this game.”

Rangers prop up Group G with a single point and know the outcome of their next two meetings, both with Unirea, will be crucial to their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.

But Smith is well aware that Dan Petrescu's men — who also have just one point on the board — will also be regarding the double-header as the matches which could resurrect their campaign.

“For both clubs, it's exactly the same,” Smith said.

“When the back-to-back games are over, it gives you an indication for success or otherwise.

“These two games will be vitally important for both clubs. We will just have to make sure we play in the manner in which we hope can bring us a level of success. We must do that.”

Smith has also refused to buy into the notion that Unirea will be pushovers, simply because they do not boast the profile of other clubs in the competition, or even in their own country.

“Overall, they have shown themselves to be a good side,” he said.

“It's not often that smaller clubs can come up and defeat the bigger clubs in their country. Unirea have done that so obviously they are a good team.

“If we had been drawn against Steaua Bucharest, for instance, we would have imagined an extremely tough task.

“Unirea beat them to the championship last season and, if anything, this season they will put an emphasis on the Champions League. That's what makes them very dangerous.”s

Tonight's key battles

Madjid Bougherra v Marius Bilasco

Bougherra has plenty to atone for after missing Saturday's victory at St Johnstone following his late arrival from Algeria international duty. The defender is crucial to Rangers' hopes though and his foray forward in Stuttgart earned their only point of the group. Bilasco scored eight goals as Urziceni won the title last season. The 28-year-old forward can play wide right or through the middle and his running could cause Rangers problems.

Steven Davis v Iulian Apostol

IBROX hero Davis will be vital in adding a spark of creativity to Walter Smith's midfield. The Northern Ireland international almost marked his Champions League debut with a goal when he struck the post from 20 yards in the 1-1 draw in Stuttgart. Apostol, 28, has won a place in the Romania team on the back of his role in Urziceni's success. The dynamic midfielder scored against the Faroe Islands last week on his fifth international appearance.

Kenny Miller v George Galamaz

MILLER was a late substitute in the 2-1 win at St Johnstone after seeing a specialist over his ongoing hamstring problem. But the striker thrives on the big occasion and his movement is likely to be utilised to break down the Romanians. Skipper Galamaz has previous experience of playing in Europe with Dinamo Bucharest and has thrived under Dan Petrescu. The physical defender, 28, made his Romania debut against the Faroes last week.

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