Second-half strikes from Nacho Novo and Fernando Ricksen handed Alex McLeish’s men a two-goal advantage before Nikolaus Frousos replied for the Cypriot champions who now must win in Glasgow in a fortnight’s time if they are to deny Rangers a place in UEFA’s premier competition.
Like Saturday’s SPL victory away to Inverness Caley, this was a performance rich in graft rather than craft but it left Rangers tantalisingly on the brink of a return to the Champions League group stage for the first time in two seasons.
As a cool wind wafted over the dusty bowl that is the GSP Stadium – a stark contrast to the stifling daytime heat when the temperature nudged 32C – the first real surprise of the evening arrived with the announcement of the Rangers team.
In his pre-match briefings McLeish had given no indication that he planned to tinker with his selection but there were several changes, both in personnel and in formation.
Deploying a 4-3-3 formation, McLeish handed a debut to Julien Rodriguez in central defence, shunting Jose-Karl Pierre-Fanfan to right-back and recalling Michael Ball for his first start of the season.
Ricksen took his place on the right of a midfield three alongside Barry Ferguson and Ian Murray while up front Thomas Buffel started out wide on the left with Dado Prso central and Novo asked to perform on the right flank.
Perhaps unsettled by the changes, Rangers made a hesitant start allowing their hosts a generous amount of time on the ball from which they poured forward regularly in attack.
Anorthosis had beaten Turkish side, Trabzonspor, 3-1 on this ground in the previous round and they were unfortunate not to score in the first half here after enjoying several gilt-edge chances.
Frousos – the sole frontman in a 4-5-1 formation that quickly became 4-3-3 when in attack – was the chief culprit, somehow heading wide after stealing in behind the Rangers defence to connect with Giorgi Kinkladze’s chipped pass.
The same pair combined again later in the half and although Froussos’ aim was more accurate second time around his lofted shot banged off the post allowing Ronald Waterreus the chance to swat the rebound to safety.
Anorthosis’ final chance of the half came in the third minute of injury time – after the fourth official hadindicated that only one minute would be played – and again Waterreus was the hero, beating away a thumping effort from player-manager Temuri Ketsbaia.
The half-time whistle was no doubt warmly welcomed by McLeish and his men as they reeled under some sustained Anorthosis pressure but Rangers had not been without chances of their own in a disjointed first half.
Novo thrashed an effort wide early on but it was from set-pieces that Rangers looked most threatening.
Twice in succession, Ricksen corners – one from either side – caused panic in the home defence and Savvas Poursaitidis almost inadvertently headed into his own net before Marvin Andrews similarly failed to find the target with a free header moments later.
The most glaring miss of the first half, however, came from the boot of Murray. Just as he had in Rangers’ match with Dinamo Zagreb in Toronto, the former Hibs captain found himself in uncharted territory in the opposition box after latching on to Novo’s pass.
He seemed to have steadied himself for the shot but, as his moment of glory loomed large, Murray snatched at the chance and ballooned a shot high and wide into the Rangers supporters gathered behind the goal.
That miss sparked a concerted period of Anorthosis pressure – aided by some eccentric officiating from referee Frank de Bleeckere – with Rangers happy to troop up the tunnel at half-time having kept their goal intact.
After a relatively subdued start to the second period, the match then burst into life with three goals in seven minutes.
The first two strikes both belonged to Rangers as first Novo and then an increasingly influential Ricksen bludgeoned shots past Antonis Giorgallides in the Anorthosis net.
Prso laid the groundwork for the first goal, ghosting to the goalline to float over an inviting cross that Ricksen attacked with an acrobatic overhead kick that Giorgallides somehow kept out with an instinctive parry.
Novo, however, was quickest to the loose ball and rammed it high into the roof of the net for his first goal of the season.
Six minutes later and Rangers forged further in front. Ferguson fed Prso whose sublime reverse pass found Ricksen in the clear.
He took one touch to control the ball before poking the ball under the keeper to put Rangers within touching distance of the Champions League group stage.
Anorthosis’ response though was immediate and almost straight from kick off substitute Leonidas Kampantais threaded a pass through to Frousos who made up for his earlier errors by drilling a low shot past Waterreus.
It was the first goal that Rangers had conceded this season and they almost lost a second five minutes from time when only a brave block from Waterreus – again – denied Kampantais what would have been an equalising goal.
Instead Rangers held on to record a vital away victory and put themselves in the driving seat ahead of the second leg at Ibrox in a fortnight.
ANORTHOSIS FAMAGUSTA (4-5-1): 1 Giorgallides; 7 Poursaitidis (Tsolakidis 74), 78 Loucas, 20 Xenides, 22 Haxhi; 9 Tsitaishvili (Kampantais 70), 16 Marangos (Konstandinou 81), 5 Nicolaou, 10 Kinkladze, 14 Ketsbaia; 11 Frousos
Subs not used: Kokkinos, Markou, Samaras, Parmakis
Booked: Xenides (11), Haxki (90)
RANGERS (4-3-3): 25 Waterreus; 18 Pierre-Fanfan, 16 Rodriguez, 3 Ball; 2 Ricksen, 6 Ferguson, 24 Murray; 10 Novo (Burke 80), 9 Prso (Thompson 74), 4 Buffel (Lovenkrands 58)
Subs not used: Klos, Malcolm, Rae, McCormack
Booked: Ball (8), Ricksen (43), Andrews (45)
Key Man: Ronald Waterreus, several vital saves