Rangers fall at the last hurdle

Rangers 0 Lyon 3

Rangers 0 Lyon 3

Rangers hopes of joining Old Firm rivals Celtic in the last 16 of the Champions League were left in tatters by Lyon on a miserable night at Ibrox.

A draw would have been enough to see Walter Smith’s men through to the last 16 and hopes were high following an emphatic 3-0 victory over Alain Perrin’s men in their own backyard earlier in the competition.

But Sidney Govou’s opener and a late double from Karim Benzema secured the win the French champions needed to join Group E winners Barcelona in the knockout stages, while it was a night to forget for Rangers striker Jean-Claude Darcheville who missed a sitter before his last-minute red card.

Rangers may still have the UEFA Cup to look forward but that competition will seem like scant consolation tonight.

There were no real surprises in the Rangers line-up with Smith persisting with the 4-5-1 formation which had largely served them well on European nights so far.

Daniel Cousin had been in inspirational form in Lyon and he was again picked in the lone striker role in the absence of Darcheville, who was named on the bench despite struggling with a hamstring strain.

Fabio Grosso, Juninho and Govou were all back after being rested for Lyon’s 1-0 defeat at Caen following their failed bid for a free weekend after Rangers’ own league game against Gretna was postponed to allow more time to prepare for tonight’s crunch match.

The French champions should have snatched the advantage in the opening minutes by capitalising on sloppy defending within the Rangers ranks.

Govou nipped in front of Alan Hutton to collect a perfect pass from Juninho but Ibrox breathed a collective sigh of relief when he rifled into the side-netting.

Kevin Thomson then picked up the first booking of the game for a challenge on Benzema with just nine minutes gone. The yellow card was less of a worry for Rangers than the sight of deadball specialist Juninho presiding over the set-piece.

The free-kick was struck well enough but Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor did well to dive low to his left and turn the effort past the post.

Unfortunately for the Glasgow giants, McGregor was left plucking the ball out of the net with 16 minutes gone.

Juninho started the move and Benzema – looking every inch the star of the future he is tipped to be – drove at goal. McGregor’s attempts to clear the danger failed hopelessly as he parried straight to the feet of Govou.

This time there was no mistake from the French striker, who fired into the roof of the net from 10 yards with the Rangers goalkeeper prostrate.

Rangers looked rattled but composed themselves to create their first real chance on goal. Steven Whittaker’s ferocious long-range shot drew a block from goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre, who then smothered the rebound from Sasa Papac.

There were further problems for the home side when Papac went to ground in front of the technical area in obvious pain after a late challenge from Hatem Ben Arfa.

Steven Naismith was stripped and ready for action but just when boss Smith was preparing to reshuffle his pack, Papac resumed his role at left-back after receiving treatment off the park.

As the game raced towards the interval with Rangers still trailing, there was a half-hearted shout for handball when a Lee McCulloch effort came off Sebastien Squillaci but any claims for a penalty were ignored by referee Lubos Michel.

Naismith was finally given his chance when he was sent on at the restart, replacing the ineffective Cousin, and taking up position on the left of midfield with McCulloch now leading the attack.

Rangers emerged for the second half looking far hungrier and should have restored parity within four minutes. A cross from Hutton sailed over Vercoutre and looked netbound before Francois Clerc managed to nod off the line and Whittaker’s rebound flashed inches wide.

At the other end, only the woodwork prevented Lyon from adding to their tally. Carlos Cuellar was cautioned for a clumsy challenge on Jeremy Toulalan and McGregor was a mere spectator as Juninho’s free-kick crashed off the crossbar.

Thomson squandered a great opportunity to haul Rangers back into the game when he collected the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box and drilled wide.

With 20 minutes to go, Rangers threw caution to the wind when Papac was sacrificed for Darcheville as they chased the goal that would keep their Champions League dream alive.

Instead, it was Lyon who almost scored. Benzema rounded McGregor, pulled the trigger, and was shocked to see Whittaker on the line to make the clearance before the Rangers goalkeeper recovered to smother a second attempt from the France international.

Then came the moment with 11 minutes remaining that will no doubt haunt Darcheville for the remainder of his career.

A superb ball from Barry Ferguson teed up the shot three yards from goal but the Gers striker somehow hit the ball against the crossbar when it looked so much easier to score.

With six minutes to go the stuffing was knocked out of Rangers. A free-kick lobbed into the box was pounced upon by Benzema who slotted between the legs of McGregor from 15 yards, before helping himself to his second of the night three minutes later with a shot from the edge of the box.

Rangers’ misery was compounded when Darcheville was shown a straight red at the death for stamping on Kim Kallstrom.

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