RANGERS will, in all likelihood, need to achieve what none of their predecessors ever managed by beating Spanish opposition away from home if they are to progress to the last eight of the UEFA Cup.
That they travel to Spain level on terms with Osasuna following this first-leg draw will be a massive disappointment to Walter Smith and his men although in truth only some instinctive goalkeeping from Stefan Klos and a late Brahim Hemdani strike saved Rangers from suffering an ignominious home defeat.
The only Rangers side to win on Spanish soil to date were the legendary Cup Winners Cup side of 1972 and it would almost be an achievement on a parallel with that historic win over Moscow Dynamo should the class of 2007 somehow carve out the result they need to keep alive their interest in this tournament.
In truth, this was probably the worst Rangers performance since Smith resumed the reins in January and they will need to perform much better in Pamplona next Wednesday if they are to give the Spaniards much to worry about.
Klos, one of the few stand-outs in Light Blues on a disappointing night, could hardly have chosen a more high-profile match in which to make his comeback to first team action.
The German’s return for his first start in almost exactly a year, in place of the suspended Allan McGregor, was Walter Smith’s only change to the starting XI that had battled to a 2-0 victory at Easter Road the previous weekend.
The bench, however, was beefed up with more experienced bodies with Libor Sionko, Filip Sebo and Karl Svensson all straining to be involved in the action.
Osasuna’s plea that their squad had been decimated by injuries for once wasn’t merely a case of media manipulation.
They lined up in the 4-1-4-1 formation they had intimated, a system that had Cameroonian striker Aguiue Webo at its apex.
With both teams, in theory, lining up with a solitary striker apiece – albeit with Barry Ferguson detailed to support Kris Boyd whenever possible – it was of little surprise that most of the key battles took place in the heart of a congested midfield.
Osasuna, surprisingly, enjoyed large swathes of territorial possession in the early stages, often pushing a shaky Rangers defence on to the back foot.
It was scarcely a shock, therefore, when the Spaniards forged in front after 17 minutes. If Rangers felt the foul awarded against Charlie Adam for his challenge on Jose Izquierdo was unmerited then they could have little complaint with the way the goal was conceded.
Luis Gomez, collecting the ball from the short free kick, was allowed to amble forward unfettered until he reached the edge of the Rangers penalty box from where his swerving, enticing cross was embraced by the forehead of Raul Garcia.
His downward header kissed the Ibrox turf before nestling in the corner of the net despite Klos’ desperate attempt to keep it out.
Rangers’ nervousness was apparent if somewhat inexplicable. Their current good run of form should have given them sufficient confidence from which to build a commanding lead to take to Spain for the return match but instead passes went astray and tackles were missed.
On one rare forage forward midway through the first half Chris Burke skipped past several passes before executing the perfect reverse ball into the penalty box.
Hemdani, not possessing Burke’s depth of foresight, failed to anticipate the pass and the chance was gone.
Worse was to soon follow for Rangers with Barry Ferguson collecting a yellow card that means he now misses the second leg in Pamplona. It was to be symptomatic of Rangers’ luck on the night.
Smith had to do something to try to salvage the tie and acted accordingly at the break, shoving on Nacho Novo to replace Charlie Adam who could perhaps count himself unfortunate to have been given the hook so early in the game.
The change, however, did little to alter the shape of the game as Osasuna grew increasingly comfortable with Rangers unable to break them down at the other end.
It could have been worse for Rangers around the hour mark when the Spaniards capitalised on an Ugi Ehiogu error to send Inaki Munoz through on goal but Klos rolled back the years to make a fantastic point-blank save.
Buoyed by the let-off, Rangers drove up the park to create their first two scoring chances of the game.
Novo darted down the right flank to send in a tempting cross that Ricardo missed and Carlos Cuellar almost inadvertently directed into his own net, the defender heaving a massive sigh of relief as the ball only just cleared his own crossbar.
From the resulting corner Rangers made Ricardo work for the first time, the keeper reacting adroitly to keep out Kevin Thomson’s thump towards the top corner of his goal.
It was another frustrating moment in an unsatisfactory night’s work for Rangers although they shortly afterwards sampled their first piece of good fortune of the evening when Gomez thrashed a left-foot shot wide of the target when taking it with his right seemed the more obvious choice.
A set-piece just outside the penalty box presented Rangers with a chance to draw level. Adam, the ideal choice of taker from that range, was by now sitting on the bench with his feet up and Ferguson duly squirted the effort tamely wide of goal.
Rangers’ play was becoming increasingly ragged and they had Klos to thank once more when the keeper kept out Munoz’s stab at goal.
The final piece of action, however, came at the other end. Just as he had in the previous Old Firm game, Hemdani was the late, late hero as he strode forward before unleashing a shot that arced past Ricardo.
Ibrox erupted in relief but it was the sole bright spot on a gloomy night.
RANGERS (4-5-1): Klos; Hutton, Ehiogu, Weir, Murray; Burke, Ferguson, Thomson (Prso 66), Hemdani, Adam (Novo 46); Boyd (Sebo 86)
Subs not used: Robinson, Rae, Sionko, Svensson
Booked: Ferguson (27), Hutton (47)
OSASUNA (4-1-4-1): Ricardo; Izquierdo, Cuellar, M Flano, Monreal; Nekunam; Lopez, Munoz, Garcia, Gomez (Juanfran 76); Webo (Romeo 81)
Subs not used: Elia, Cruchaga, Romero, J Flano, Font
Booked: Gomez (20), Garcia (25), Lopez (73)
Ref: Jan Wegereef (Ned)
Didn’t waste a pass all night and scored a fine goal.