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If We're So Bad How Come The Teams Who Say It Can't Beat Us ?

May 12 2008 By Hugh Keevins

WALTER SMITH last night blasted the critics who say Rangers' football isn't good enough to make them UEFA Cup finalists.

The manager will leave for Manchester today to begin preparations for the game against Zenit St Petersburg on the rebound from a weekend in which Dundee United boss Craig Levein accused referee Mike McCurry of being biased in favour of Rangers.

Criticism of the win over the Tannadice side was the last straw for Smith and he rounded on those trying to diminish his team's attempt at winning a domestic and European quadruple.

He said: "I'm told Rangers play antifootball or rubbish football. If we're so bad how come the teams saying these things can't beat us? If they're so good they should be taking a look at themselves and asking that question.

"But you'll notice it's been players in the main who have accused us of being anti-football. Coaches tend to know better and understand what we're doing.

"But I'm not offended in any way, shape or form by these negative comments. I just hope they're still saying these things about us on Thursday morning when we're the UEFA Cup winners."

It was Barcelona's Lionel Messi who coined the phrase anti-football when Rangers got a goalless draw with the Spaniards at Ibrox during their stay in the Champions League.

Elimination from that competition was seen as failure and a vindication of Messi's assessment but Barcelona have gone on to win nothing at home or abroad and coach Frank Rijkaard will leave the club at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Smith has done so well Rangers supporters groups are campaigning for him to be given a knighthood.

Now the manager has told his players not to be out for revenge against the SPL bosses who refused to cancel Saturday's game against Dundee United to give them breathing space before the UEFA Cup Final.

He said: "That's a poor form of motivation. The SPL and the decision they took shouldn't be our driving force in Manchester. The need to win a European trophy should be our inspiration.

"We've just played three league games in the space of six days against Hibs, Motherwell and Dundee United and it's been a relief to see the players get a good reward from those games in the shape of seven points out of nine.

"The players deserve all the credit because we're not working on a level playing field like the rest, and we know we're not."

Smith clearly still feels bitter that the SPL movers and shakers, who will be in Manchester to see the final because it features a Scottish club, couldn't revise their schedule out of national concern.

The Rangers players were given an unexpected day off yesterday and will fly to Manchester this afternoon after a light training session at Murray Park.

They will have another session at the City of Manchester Stadium tomorrow night before facing Rangers' first European final for 36 years.

There's an injury doubt over midfielder Kevin Thomson, who had to be substituted at the weekend, but Smith remains optimistic he will make it.

The manager said: "I wanted the game against United to be moved because I wanted clear heads. The injury to Kevin is another complication but the physio tells me he should make the final. It's about rest now as much as training for the players.

"I want them to enjoy the final and a break at the weekend would have given them psychological respite.

"It wasn't to be and I'm proud of the way they've handled themselves throughout this season.

"But I don't want them coming back from Manchester saying, 'We've had a good season even though we didn't win the UEFA Cup'. I want them to win it because the players deserve everything they can get."

Smith allowed the players to take a lap of honour after Saturday's last home game of the season without taking part himself until the final quarter of the pitch but he wasn't being excessively modest.

He said: "I was up the tunnel doing a television interview when the lap of honour began. I know what we've achieved together so far has been an improbable success.

"Stand-in goalkeeper Neil Alexander has been great since he had to replace Allan McGregor. We've got a player like Kirk Broadfoot, who rarely gets the credit he deserves, and others, like Steve Davis, are on loan from other clubs.

"It's improbable but what do we do? People are quick to assess our level of football but we play to a better level than we're given credit for."

Broadfoot admitted he had to pinch himself during the lap of honour - and he's hoping for a quick repeat on Wednesday night.

He said: "The lap of honour was like a dream come true for me. It was the kind of thing I've had dreams about since I was a wee boy growing up as a Rangers supporter. I only hope there's cause for another one in Manchester on Wednesday night."

If anyone is entitled to pinch themselves about the prospect of bringing a European prize back to Ibrox it's the full-back who took the place of Alan Hutton after his £9million move to Spurs.

This time last year Broadfoot had helped St Mirren avoid relegation by beating Motherwell on the second last day of the season and Europe for him meant nothing more glamorous than a club trip to Marbella.

He said: "To think I could now have the chance of playing in a European final 12 months later is unbelievable.

"I knew I faced a hard challenge to make my mark at the club and didn't expect to be playing every week by this stage. But I made up mymind to play to the best of my ability and when Alan left I took my chance."

Broadfoot suffered a moment of anguish when he went down with a thigh injury during the second half of Saturday's match and looked like a man in emotional distress.

But his despair wasn't the result of thinking he might have his dream of a European final turn into an injury-induced nightmare.

He said: "I was more annoyed by the thought I might not be able to finish the game against United. I haven't begun to think about Wednesday yet but now I'll have to because of the need to make sure my family are all catered for where tickets are concerned."

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