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UEFA Cup finalists Rangers out of Europe

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 5 Aug 2008

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Rangers’ European dream is over before the season has barely begun after the UEFA Cup finalists suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at FBK Kaunas here on Tuesday.

The Scottish giants travelled to Lithuania needing an away goal after last week’s goalless first leg of this Champions League second round qualifier.

But with no safety net of the UEFA Cup to fall back on at this stage of the competition Tuesday’s loss means Rangers are out of Europe before the Scottish Premier League has even started.

The Lithuanian minnows sealed their place in the next round with a late goal from Linas Pilibaitis.

Rangers had taken the lead in the first half through a rare strike from midfielder Kevin Thomson.

But a thunderbolt free-kick from Nerijus Radzius cancelled out their advantage on the stroke of half-time before former Hearts player Pilibaitis clinched the tie in the 86th minute.

Rangers started the game well and had their first effort on target in the second minute.

Spanish striker Nacho Novo fired in a cross which took a deflection and had to be turned over the crossbar by Kaunas keeper Marian Kello.

Kenny Miller was then presented with a chance in the 14th minute when Christian Dailly found him with a high pass over the top of the Kaunas defence, but the Scottish internationalist’s chip from the edge of the box went well over the bar.

Lee McCulloch picked up a yellow card in the 15th minute for pulling back Rafael Ledesma just outside the box. The Brazilian playmaker took the resulting freekick which Allan McGregor easily saved.

Kevin Thomson found himself in the referee’s book after a late tackle in the 20th minute but it was the midfielder who opened the scoring in the 32nd minute after some fine wing work by Nacho Novo.

The Spaniard showed great strength and determination to fend off defender Nerijus Radzius and pick out Thomson in the box, who slotted the ball home through the keeper’s legs for his first European goal for Rangers.

There was a nervy moment for Rangers keeper McGregor in the 40th minute when he failed to get a hand to a Ledesma free-kick but it just cleared the far post.

But a goal was not long in coming for Kaunas, who equalised two minutes from half-time with a magnificent free-kick from Radzius.

The defender slammed home the ball from 35 yards out with a thunderbolt kick that beat the Rangers wall and flew into the top left-hand corner of McGregor’s net.

Kaunas looked more organised at the start of the second half and soon had a chance to take the lead when Marius Cinikas’ shot from the edge of the box smashed off the crossbar.

Allan McGregor then had to be at his best to save a downward header from Adrian Mrowiec in the 59th minute. The Rangers keeper was the busiest man on the pitch at this time and he was called into action again in the 70th minute. Kaunas won a free-kick which Ledesma took.

His cross was high and long and McGregor did well to grasp the ball on the line.

A rare Rangers attack in the 74th minute saw Kenny Miller break down the left wing but his cross was too near Kello who caught it confidently after it bounced off the greasy surface.

Substitute Andrius Velicka had a great chance to win it for Rangers in the 80th minute when Sasa Papac cut the ball back to him at the penalty spot but the former Kaunas player hit his shot well over the bar.

But it was to be Kaunas’ night and Linas Pilbaitis sent the home fans wild when his header from a corner somehow made its way into the Rangers net past McGregor and a defender on the line.

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