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17 October 2014

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Rangers triumph in Europe 1972

Rangers captain, John Greig, with the trophy

© SNSpix

Back then, Glasgow Rangers' European Cup-Winners' Cup victory on 24 May 1972, when they defeated Moscow Dynamo 3-2, felt like it had been a long time coming. It was the Light Blues' 14th campaign in European football, stretching back to a European Cup match against Nice at Ibrox on 24 October 1956.

Furthermore, the final clash against the Russians in Barcelona was Rangers' 83rd European competitive tie, and in reaching the final Willie Waddell's men became the first team to record three final appearances in the Cup-Winners' Cup.

In 1961, a year after the competition began, Rangers lost a two-legged final 2-0 and 2-1 to Italian side Fiorentina, winger Alex Scott, whose tally of 12 goals in Europe was eventually passed by Ally McCoist, getting the only goal for the Ibrox team.

Six years later, and just a week after Celtic's heroics in winning the European Cup in Lisbon, Rangers faced up to Bayern Munich in the final in Nuremberg, in what could almost be described as a home tie for the Germans. Rangers had beaten the holders Borussia Dortmund on the way to Nuremberg, but they met their match against Bayern, who won the game 1-0 after extra-time.

If 16 years had seemed an agonisingly long wait before winning a European trophy, then the three decades and more which have followed '72 without the addition of Continental silverware must seem interminable.

Rangers won the Cup-Winners' Cup in season '71/'72 for a number of reasons. First, there was absolute determination in the camp. Captain John Greig has spoken of his team's will to win, especially for the long-suffering Rangers fans who had stuck by the team “in the dark seasons without success”. The late '60s and early '70s was, of course, the period when Jock Stein's Celtic swept aside all before them.

Secondly, Rangers seemed able to raise their game for the European matches that season. Domestically, the Light Blues had had an abysmal start to their season, losing four of their first five league games, going down twice to Celtic in their League Cup section, and later, in the Scottish Cup, being defeated by Hibs in the semis. Whether the opposition underestimated Rangers because of their poor form in Scotland, or whether the players saw Europe as a way to forget their domestic blues, the Cup-Winners' Cup matches saw a different Rangers take to the park.

Thirdly, their European experience eventually paid off in terms of tactical nous. Willie Waddell varied his team's system considerably, depending on players available to him and on what he had seen on his spying trips abroad. Three times they managed 1-1 scorelines away from home, scoring nine goals on foreign soil in total. All four home matches were won.

Lastly, aggression, skill and a fabulous work rate characterised this Rangers side. Colin Stein and Willie Johnston fronted 5-3-2 and 4-4-2 formations, their duty to close down opposition defenders' space drummed into them by Waddell and assistant manager Jock Wallace. With Greig driving the team on, Colin Jackson and Derek Johnstone defending with vigour, and Dave Smith, Scotland's Player of the Year that season, having returned in September 1971 from two broken legs in the space of a year, displaying composure and superb distribution of the ball, the elements for victory were there.

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