Ferguson facing UEFA probe over elbow as Gers miss record

15 February 2007 07:39

TEL AVIV (AFP) - Rangers´ frustration over missing out on the chance to set a new Scottish record of 13 matches unbeaten in Europe has been compounded by concern over skipper Barry Ferguson´s availability for the second leg of their last-32 tie with Hapoel Tel Aviv.

The Scotland midfielder could be facing a ban after appearing to elbow Hapoel´s Tal Chen during his side´s 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

Hapoel coach Nir Levin said after the match that he intended to raise the matter with UEFA. "I´m not happy with the incident because tv pictures show Ferguson clearly elbowing Chen," the Israel coach declared.

Baruch Degu´s late winner left Gers boss Walter Smith to rue his first defeat since returning to Ibrox last month, the Scots paying the price for complacency after Nacho Novo had cancelled out Salim Toama´s spectacular first-half opener for the home side.

Rangers should have had the chance to equalise when a David Weir header in the box was blocked by the upstretched arms of defender Ram Doani and Smith was also unhappy with the award of the free-kick which Toama fired in from 30 yards two minutes before the break.

"It was disappointing from the point of view that it happened a number of times during the evening, free-kicks being given in dangerous areas that weren´t free-kicks," said Smith, the former Scotland coach.

"It was a terrific free-kick for the goal and you always end up complaining about the referees. But tonight there were a lot of situations where there were fouls in the game that weren´t fouls.

"In the second half there was also a clear handball by their defender and we have Ian Murray booked for one that hit his arm but was completely unintentional.

"I don´t think it affected the game too much but we´d been given the penalty maybe that would have made a difference."

Smith however is confident his side will be able to overturn their one-goal deficit in next Thursday´s second leg at Ibrox, where Rangers have already beaten the Israel champions Maccabi Tel Aviv this season.

"We have the away goal, which is always an important factor in these games and we have a good opportunity to go through at Ibrox."

Despite their indifferent domestic form, Rangers have proved surprisingly resilient in Europe since their 12-match unbeaten run began in October 2005.

And there was nothing in the opening 40 minutes here to suggest that it was about to come to an end.

Despite an injury crisis which forced Smith to name four teenagers on the bench, Rangers appeared comfortably in control of the contest with Ferguson dominating the midfield.

But the Scottish giants were left stunned two minutes before the interval after January signing David Weir was judged to have fouled Hapoel´s Izbita Ogbona a full 30 yards from goal.

The distance mattered little to Toama, who stepped up and curled a superb left-foot drive around the outside of the wall and into the top corner.

It was a rude awakening for the visitors but it was no real surprise when they equalised seven minutes after the restart.

A Ferguson free-kick from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection off the wall and bounced back off the post, allowing Spanish striker Novo to bundle the ball over the line with his knee and get Rangers back on level terms.

The Scots however paid the price for going to sleep in the wake of the equaliser.

Elyaniv Barda was allowed to get in behind the back four on the right of the box and his mishit shot proved to be a perfect cross for Dego, who slotted the ball into the net from close to the penalty spot.

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