It was five going on ten as Graz were cut down to size with Gers scything through their shaky defence at will. And no-one played a bigger part in this magnificent triumph than Dutch master Ronald de Boer who was the beating heart of a totally revitalized Ibrox outfit.
Comeback king Michael Mols showed too he’s back to his brilliant best and even though he was subbed early in the second half when visibly exhausted after running his socks off his contribuition was immense.
Mols’ eighth-minute opener set the tone for what was to be one of the Light Blues’ finest hours in Europe. But frankly, everyone was a hero and the much-maligned defence never broke sweat against an Austrian side who were made to look mediocre in the extreme by the pace, guile and awesome finishing power of born-again Gers.
What made it extra sweet was that Dick Advocaat’s side chalked up three points from their opener – the same total they had at the HALFWAY stage last season. Group D is now shaping up as everyone first thought with Galatasaray beating Monaco 3-2 in Istanbul and it looks like the Turks and Rangers will be battling it out for the first spot.
However, Gers must not let their guard down when they face the tricky trip to Monaco next week. One thing’s for sure – after this hammering Graz looks odds-on for the wooden spoon. But although they were poor, that should not anything away from the Light Blues’ performance. Mols was magnificent and looked nothing like a player who has been out for 10 months and once he opened the scoring there was no looking back.
The Dutch striker linked up superbly with countryman de Boer and it was fitting that the former Barca star set up Mols’ comeback goal. But not content with supplying the amm, de Boer pulled the trigger himself 10 mintues later with his first Gers’ goal. Signed for £4.5million from the Catalan giants, the Dutchman has already won the Champions League and we saw just why on Tuesday night with a quality display.
De Boer slid in at the front post to connect with an Allan Johnston cross and it was a major surprise that Magic was in the line-up. But we all know how wily the Little General can be and yet again, just as he did with Derek McInnes against PSV Eindhoven last season, he produced a trump card.
The Scotland international was very influential, not only setting up de Boer for his debut goal but also hitting the woodwork twice. Advocaat also took a risk by putting Jorg Albertz on from the start after the injury he’s been carrying since the preliminary round against Herfolge. But the gamble also paid off with the big German midfielder scoring to make it 3-0 in the 28th minute. He drove at the Austrian defence before firing in a superb, swerving shot around the helpless Josef Schicklgruber.
There were no changes at the break, hardly surprising given Gers’ domination. Gers were so in control they could even afford to miss a penalty on 54 minutes when Albertz hit it straight at the keeper after a foul on de Boer. But the next goal was only delayed 16 minutes and what a cracker it was. De Boer capped a mazy run with a perfect pass for Gio van Bronckhorst to unleash a stunning drive into the net. The three points were in the bag and it was a case of how many more Gers could score in the last 20 minutes. It was only one and Billy Dodds, who came on for Mols in 59 minutes, continued to show that he is always dangerous by scoring his first Champions league goal.
And Doddsy made it one to remember, chipping the keeper beautifully after van Bronckhorst sent him clear on the edge of the box. That completed a remarkable night for Rangers who jet off to Monaco on Monday and Istanbul seven days later, knowing if they avoid defeat in either game a place in the last 16 is virtually secured. What a /difference from this time last season when a 2-0 defeat at the hands of eventual tournament finalists Valencia was a better pill to swallow.