Thursday, August 09, 2007

Red Star vs. Rangers, then and now

Well, I slept throught the night and have calmed down...What can I say? We are through, only just, but that counts just as well. And we play against Rangers. And this tie brings back some fond memories and I'm certainly not the only Red Star fan that is thinking so.

It was October 1990...Hard to believe it's been 17 years since then! I only just enrolled in high school and Red Star have disposed of Grasshoppers of Zurich in the first round of the back then still Champions Cup. When I looked at the list of potential opponents in the next round I had a feeling we'd get Rangers and I was right. Back then they were a formidable force full of Scotland and England internationals such as Mo Johnstone, Ally McCoist, Richard Gough, Chris Woods, Mark Hateley, Trevor Steven and were managed by Liverpool and Scotland legend Graeme Souness. An opponent that would indeed show whether that Red Star team had what it takes to win the competition. The first leg was to be played on Red Star stadium, the "Marakana".

I went with two of my uncles, one of which is unfortunately deceased now, we took our seats on the West stand. We arrived over an hour before kick-off and the North stand, Red Star ultras traditional base, was already filled up to capacity in spite of it being a standing area back in those days. Rangers fans were about 3000, situated on the East stand towards the South. It was a party atmosphere throughout, almost anticipating what was about to come. Right from the kick-off Red Star took control. In the 5th minute Prosinečki passed to Radinović on the right flank and his cross forced the usually reliable Gough to score an own goal! A dream start! But all to often ex-Yugoslavia teams started great only to fade further on. But there was none of that from this Red Star. They pressed on, created chance after chance but there were no more goals in the first half and Rangers could have considered themsleves lucky.

Second half brought more of the same. Red Star presses on, Rangers having difficulty to get the ball to the opponent's half. In the 50th minute Stošić is fouled on the left side about 20-25 meters from the Rangers goal. An occasion tailor-made for Prosinečki who duly obliged with one of his free kicks. 2-0! One more and we can go to Glasgow calmly. And it came about a quater of an hour later. Binić and Pančev fooled the entire Rangers defence and the latter scored in his characteristic way. And there could have been more. Much more. Rangers were not just soundly defeated, they were played off the pitch. How superior was Red Star? Well to give you an illustration here's this fact: Ibrox park, known to get behind the team even in seemingly lost causes, was half-empty in the second leg. Rangers fans practically gave up after the first leg. As for the game in Glasgow, Red Star could have won that one as well but the 1-1 draw was enough. Rangers could later console themselves that they lost to the team that in the end won the competition.

Looking back at it, I believe that the first leg of this tie was the game that made everyone at Red Star, the players, technical staff, the management and the fans conscious of their strength and the capability of going all the way. It was the lack thereof which impeded many teams of ex-Yugoslavia in the past of reaching greatness. Needless to say the 1990/91 season(Nick Hornby was right about the slash) is the greatest I've lived through.

That was then, and now? Both teams are not what they used to be and have underachieved in Europe lately. But while Rangers have stumbled somewhat, Red Star precipitated, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with football. This makes the Scottish club favorites to go to the Champions League in spite of hardly an enchanting performance against Zeta. Red Star have reasonable chances but not if they play like against Levadia. It's 5 days until the game and I know that many consider that to little time to correct anything. But football is a funny old game. In the quater of a century that I follow the game I've seen teams transform from no-hopers to champions in minutes so in 5 days it is possible that Red Star improves dramatically. Whether they have the ability is a different matter. And with the coach yesterday admitting that "he prayed that we do not conceed the third" I am not overly optimistic.

No comments: