In the first round Rangers were drawn with Rennes. Waddell went for spoiling tactics in Brittany, with the French being harried off the ball and pressed at every opportunity. Willie Johnston scored the opener, with Rennes later equalising. The Rennes manager was not impressed at all, describing Rangers' play as “anti-football”. By the time of the return leg, Rennes were lying second in the French league. Alex MacDonald got the goal at Ibrox and Rangers went through 2-1 on aggregate.
In the next round, Rangers played their first leg against Sporting Lisbon at Ibrox, thrilling the fans with a terrific first-half display which saw them lead 3-0. The Portuguese, though, scored twice in the second 45 to make the return leg a nail-biting prospect for Rangers.
What followed must be one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of any European tournament. The Dutch referee Laurens van Raavens failed to recognise that Rangers, having scored three away goals to Sporting's two, had won the tie. He ordered the teams to take five penalties each. With the Lisbon fans pouring over the barriers and standing on the touchline, Rangers managed to score just one spot kick. The Sporting Lisbon takers did considerably better. As the local fans went crazy with joy, and the goalie Damas was carried off shoulder high, it looked like it was all over for Rangers.
However, Willie Waddell was insistent that the penalty shoot-out should never have taken place. He tracked down UEFA official Senor Ranirez of the Spanish FA and pointed out in the rule book the section on away goals. Indeed, Waddell was correct. The referee was overruled, the result overturned and Rangers were heading into the next round, where they were to meet Torino.
In the Stadio Communale in Turin, Willie Johnston gave Rangers the lead in 25 minutes after a magnificent overlapping run and cross from Willie Mathieson. The Rangers manager and players have since described the second-half onslaught as the fiercest attacking they had ever faced. But Waddell had played the Italians at their own game. He had opted for the catennacio system (literally, “the door bolt”) so favoured by Herrera's Inter. A young Derek Johnstone was asked to operate as centre half alongside Colin Jackson, while the adaptable Smith dropped in behind this duo as sweeper. Torino did manage to break Rangers down, but just once and so the tie was level going back to Ibrox.
Torino were leading Serie A when they arrived in Glasgow. A great performance by Rangers, witnessed by 75,000 fans, saw them through 2-1 on aggregate, the only goal at Ibrox being scored by Alex MacDonald. It was the first time Rangers had beaten Italian opposition over two legs.