Glasgow Rangers opened their Champions League group stage with a point against Marseille courtesy of a dramatic late comeback. Marseille entered this game as the bookmaker’s favourites to win the group and progress to the final, and the French champions duly cruised into a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from strike pair Rudi Voller and Alen Boksic. Teenager Gary McSwegan was introduced from the bench by Walter Smith and clawed a goal back for Rangers with his first touch before Mark Hateley grabbed a point with an 81st minute diving header.
This fixture made Rangers the first team to host a Champions League group stage game on home soil and they entered the game in good form, having extended their Scottish Premier Division unbeaten streak to 13 games including a 1-0 win at bitter rivals Celtic on November 7th courtesy of an Ian Durrant winner.
The three foreign player rule gave Smith a selection conundrum, with Hateley leading the attack and the non-Scottish trio selected being completed by Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko and Trevor Steven on the flanks. England international midfielder Steven had left Rangers to join Marseille in the summer of 1991 for a British record transfer fee and after winning a league title in France, Steven was sold back to Rangers for less than half the transfer fee due to reported financial difficulties at Marseille.
Midfield duo Dale Gordon and the suspended Ian Ferguson were missing after featuring in the win at Leeds United that secured progress to the group stages, while Ally McCoist was injured, forcing Durrant to fill a role as a makeshift striker alongside Hateley in a 4-4-2 shape. Dutch winger Pieter Huistra was forced out of the squad due to the foreigner restriction, leaving Rangers with a threadbare bench that consisted of backup goalkeeper Ally Maxwell, three teenagers and formerly retired assistant coach David Dodds.
Marseille were favored by many to make the final and with good reason, the French champions had the experience of losing a European Cup final in 1991 on penalties to Red Star Belgrade, and fielded four players from that final in this game here. The quartet of Basile Boli, Eric Di Meco, Abedi Pele and Bernard Casoni all had the experience of that deep run in European competition, while striker Voller had made the UEFA Cup Final with Roma in 1991 and finished as the leading goal scorer in the tournament.
This was the second trip to Britain for Marseille in the tournament, with an 8-0 aggregate victory over Glentoran in the first round featuring a 5-0 first leg victory in Belfast.
Despite a fired up home crowd, Marseille flew out of the gate and Voller had a shot blocked before the rebound fell to Franck Sauzee who hammered a long range shot that was deflected behind for a corner by John Brown. The resulting corner was under hit and comfortably headed away by Di Meco at the near post before Suazee released another shot from distance, this time directing his effort well wide.
Rangers weathered the early storm and appeared to create a 7th minute chance when Stuart McCall chipped a pass in behind for Durrant only for an offside flag to end the threat.
While Marseille spent plenty of time on the front foot, it was Rangers who would carve out the next clean cut chance when Fabien Barthez went up with Hateley to claim a high cross from Steven. The 21-year old goalkeeper missed the ball and it fell invitingly to Mykhaylychenko at the back post, only for the winger to drag his shot wide with the goal gaping.
(Marseille goalkeeper and future World Cup winner Fabien Barthez)
The home team were settling into the game and received another chance to test Barthez when Boli tackled an overlapping David Robertson to concede a corner. The ‘Gers failed to make the most of the opportunity and an underhit corner was blocked at the near post before Di Meco hacked it clear.
The French champions showed their ability to attack in lightning strike fashion when Casoni launched a long ball forward to release Voller who cut across the face of Brown on the edge of the penalty area before forcing a good save from Andy Goram. Marseille came forward again less than a minute later and this time Pele blazed an errant shot way off target.
The aerial route was the preferred method of attack for Rangers and a high cross from Dave McPherson was met by Hateley who beat Jocelyn Angloma in the air before heading wide. The physical presence of Hateley was a key feature for Rangers, and the target man competed well against a physical back three that included Boli and Marcel Desailly.
The direct attacking ability of Marseille was on show again in the 31st minute when the visitors took the lead. Barthez sent a long kick forward that Richard Gough misjudged in the air, allowing Voller to drive into the penalty area. The German international striker was stood up by Brown, but squared the ball through the defender’s legs to striker partner Boksic who guided a neat one touch finish past Goram.
Rangers responded immediately and Steven was set up by Hateley before firing a shot wide from long range.
Marseille won a corner when Angloma sent a cross to the back post where McPherson headed behind under pressure from McCall. Pele’s cross was punched away by Goram before the attack was recycled and playmaker Pele drove a shot wide of the target.
The visitors continued to apply pressure and Didier Deschamps picked up possession in the center circle before driving forward and firing a shot wide. Rangers were clinging on as halftime approached and Pele was teed up by Voller before driving another shot off target. As the attacking central midfielder in a 3-5-2 shape, Pele was working hard to find possession between the Rangers lines and display his attacking threat.
Central defender Gough was having a rough outing, having misjudged the long ball forward that led to the opening goal, the Scotland international defender was now visibly limping through the latter stages of the opening half.
The injury to veteran defender Gough will have been of particular concern to manager Smith given the inexperienced bench at his disposal. Those fears were confirmed as during the interval, Gough was deemed unable to continue and 19-year old Steven Pressley was thrown into the heart of the battle. Pressley slotted into the right back position, with McPherson shifting central to battle the partnership of Boksic and Voller.
As well as hoping Pressley could take the strain, Smith would have been looking to boost the Rangers attack during the interval, with goalkeeper Barthez protecting a 1-0 lead having not registered a save in the first half.
On the other end, battling center half Boli was imposing himself on Rangers throughout the first half, but went too far after the interval when he picked up a 55th minute yellow card for a crashing foul on Robertson by the sideline. The booking was Boli’s second of the tournament, meaning he would now be suspended for Marseille’s next group stage game against Club Brugge.
The physical nature of the game continued when Brown went through the back of Pele to award Marseille a free kick. Boli lifted a high ball forward towards the penalty area only for McPherson to head clear.
The French champions soon came again and this time doubled their lead through Voller in the 57th minute. The changes that Smith was forced into at the half came into play, with converted center back McPherson adopting a high position while right back Pressley lagged behind to keep Voller onside.
Midfielder Suazee lofted a through ball into the penalty area and Voller positioned himself on the offside line before capitalizing on a mixup between Pressley and Goram to gather possession and tap the ball into an empty net.
The foul count kept ticking over in an intense game when Deschamps crashed into Pressley to concede a wide free kick. Steven’s cross was headed away before a second ball into the penalty area was rendered useless by an offside flag against McPherson.
Marseille sensed blood in the water and came forward yet again when Voller played Boksic into the left channel and the Croatian crossed to the back post where Pele skewed a volley well off target.
As Rangers fought to stay in the game, they won another wide free kick when the aggressive Di Meco brought down Hateley out wide. Steven sent in a cross that Barthez punched away weakly, only for Mykhaylychenko to collect and square across goal. The ball reached Brown and the defender fired a shot that deflected into the air before Hungarian referee Sandor Puhl blew his whistle for a foul on the goalkeeper by Hateley.
Young goalkeeper Barthez seemed vulnerable under pressure from crosses, a point that had been singled out by TV pundit and former Rangers midfielder Ray WIlkins before the game (audio in clip below).
The home team kept searching for a way back into the game and Durrant played a ball wide left that held up in the soaked grass for Mykhaylychenko to latch onto it and whip in a cross that Barthez deflected clear. Pressley was first to the loose ball and won a free kick when he was chopped down by Di Meco, with the French defender receiving a yellow card for the challenge.
The free kick was launched into the penalty area, and another poor clearance from Barthez fell to Brown who fired a shot that was blocked on the goal line. The attack was recycled and Mykhaylychenko sent in a cross that was headed down by Hateley before a Marseille clearance launched an end to end counter attack that saw Boksic being teed up by Voller to force a good save from Goram at the near post.
The impressive Voller soon turned provider and teed up Angloma who had his driven shot saved by Goram. Rangers were creaking and less than a minute later Suazee carried the ball forward and fed Voller before the veteran striker curled a shot high and wide.
German international Voller was presented with a golden chance to strike a decisive blow when Di Meco blocked a Steven clearance into the striker’s path. Voller advanced into the penalty area before firing a golden chance to seemingly seal the win into the side netting as Brown recovered to apply pressure.
Marseille were not sitting back and Voller fought Brown for a ball before the rebound fell to Angloma who dribbled into the penalty area and forced another save from Goram.
Rangers manager Smith made his second and last substitution of the game in the 78th minute, and it would prove to be an impactful one, as Steven was replaced by teenage forward McSwegan. McSwegan made an instant impression and clawed a goal back for Rangers with his first touch in the 79th minute.
Durrant drove a pass into the left channel, and the ball once more held up in the wet conditions before Mykhaylychenko sent in a high cross and McSwegan planted a header into the top corner beyond Barthez.
The goal showed a clever adjustment by Durrant to the conditions, with the forward overhitting a pass into the channel for a second time in front of Mykhaylychenko, knowing that it would hold up on the drenched turf.
With the home crowd now alive, Rangers came forward again and won a corner when Neil Murray had his cross deflected behind by Angloma. The corner was taken short to Mykhaylychenko and the winger skipped past Pele before firing a shot that was deflected away by the defense. The deflection fell to Pele and the playmaker tried to dribble upfield before being dispossessed by a combination of Mykhaylychenko and Durrant. After winning the ball, Durrant swapped passes with substitute McSwegan before driving into the penalty area and sending over a low cross that was guided home by a diving header from Hateley at the near post. The goal capped a remarkable comeback from the home team and sent the Ibrox crowd into raptures.
It appeared that the Rangers managerial debut of Smith and assistant Archie Knox had pinpointed the right side of the Marseille defense including wingback Angloma as an area to exploit at halftime, with both goals and numerous other attacks coming as a result of raids down that flank.
Another notable aspect of the goal was the turnover coughed up by reigning African Footballer of the Year Pele. The Ghana international midfielder was one of the more skilled players in the world at the time, and was shackled tightly by a hard working Rangers team all game.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Marseille manager Raymond Goethals replaced striker Boksic with midfielder Jean-Phillipe Durand, a substitution that had been lined up waiting to come on for over a minute before the equalizer and one likely designed to hold a 2-1 lead.
Marseille pushed forward after the substitution and won a free kick when Suazee teed up Pele who was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Robertson. Midfielder Pele stepped up to take the free kick but hammered his shot into the wall before a follow up shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Deschamps sent over an inswinging corner that Goram punched away before a follow up shot from substitute Durand was blocked.
Marseille had a golden chance to win it late when a Suazee shot was deflected into the path of Pele inside the penalty area. The ball got stuck under Pele’s feet in the muddy field and the chance went begging as the home crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief. This play was one of the many incidents in the game where the field and weather directly impacted the game and attacking players had the ball hold up in the mud, a factor that modern day players rarely have to face, and never to this degree.
The pressure from the visitors kept coming and a cross from Deschamps bounced around the penalty area before being claimed by Goram at the feet of Voller. Marseille were offered one last attacking opportunity when Pele was dragged down out wide by Pressley.
Before Marseille launched the final cross into the penalty area, manager Goethals made the surprising move of subbing off star striker Voller and bringing on Jean-Jacques Elydelie.
Suazee elected to shoot from the free kick but his driven, curling effort was just over the crossbar and the final whistle was blown on an absorbing battle that saw both teams finish with a point.
After being two goals down with a depleted lineup and two teenagers thrown into the fire from the bench, Rangers will have been delighted to start their campaign with a point ahead of a tough trip to face CSKA Moscow next time out.
Manager Smith will have been hoping for the return of star striker McCoist from injury as the ‘Gers looked for a win in Russia. With Moscow having gone down 1-0 to Club Brugge in their opener, the loser of the next game would be in an early hole when it came to qualification for the final.
Marseille will have been disappointed to throw away a 2-0 lead, but showed their quality and would be looking to go a step further and claim the win next time out against Club Brugge, the Group A leaders after Matchday 1.
31’ MAR Alen Boksic (Rudi Voller) 0-1
57’ MAR Rudi Voller (Franck Suazee) 0-2
79’ RAN Gary McSwegan (Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko) 1-2
81’ RAN Mark Hateley (Ian Durrant) 2-2
MAN OF THE MATCH
#9 CF Rudi Voller (Olympique de Marseille) – A performance oozing class from the German international, nutmegging a defender to create the opener for Boksic, before tapping into an empty net after good movement to double the lead for the visitors before their late collapse.
1: CF Mark Hateley – Led the line well and engaged in a physical battle with Marseille center back Boli before netting the late equalizer.
2: LM Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko – Came alive in the second half, sending in the cross for McSwegan’s opener before tracking back to force the turnover that led to the equalizing goal.
3: CF Ian Durrant – Forced into duty as a center forward due to the injury of McCoist, Durrant dropped deep to link play well and his driving run into the penalty area teed up Hateley for the equalizer.
Olympique de Marseille
1: CF Rudi Voller – Man of the Match.
2: ACM Abedi Pele – Marked tightly all game by Rangers, Pele was the extra man in midfield for Marseille, and displayed skill and creativity all game as he drove the French attack.
3: CM Franck Sauzee – A thoroughly composed performance from Suazee who fought on the defensive end while showing quality passing ability, his ball over the top for Voller doubled the lead for the French champions early in the second half.
RAN: Goram, Robertson, Gough (Pressley), Brown, McPherson, Mykhaylychenko, Murray, McCall, Steven (McSwegan), Hateley, Durrant.
MAR: Barthez, Boli, Casoni, Desailly, Di Meco, Suazee, Deschamps, Pele, Angloma, Boksic (Durand), Voller (Eydelie).