Kaunas tie massive for Rangers

Rangers manager Walter Smith says Wednesday's Champions League qualifying match against FBK Kaunas is as important to the club as their appearance in last season's UEFA Cup Final.

The Scottish Premier League runners-up take on the Lithuanian champions at Ibrox in the second qualifying round first leg match after Kaunas secured a 7-2 aggregate win over Santa Coloma of Andorra. And Smith believes the pressure his side will face in the match will be as great as they faced against Zenit St Petersburg in May's UEFA Cup Final, which Rangers lost 2-0, because of the financial stakes.

"There's so much pressure to qualify for the group stage. The financial aspect is enormous," said Smith. "But you don't need to shield players. It's the chairman, directors and coaches who think about money.

"You have to be prepared, not just for success, but if it does not go for you. It's a major anxiety and I don't go away from that. We find ourselves in a strange situation where we have a high co-efficient, but face the situation that we have awkward games and they come at the wrong time of the year.

"You don't even get the benefit of three or four competitive games before you go in but that's the way it is. When you have European aspirations these are things you have to overcome."

Turning to Wednesday's opponents, Smith added: "Kaunas play a decent standard of football and we will have to play extremely well to progress. You have to handle it and make sure you are ready for it. After all our games in Europe last season we're not going to catch anyone cold. So we must up our performance."

The Rangers manager singled out Brazilian Rafael Ledesma as Kaunas's main threat. "Kaunas have something different in their midfielder Rafael Ledesma. He fits the Brazilian identikit, because he has a good touch and is terrific with free-kicks. But we have been on an incredible run in Europe and it could stand us in good stead."

The Ibrox club have plenty of injury worries for the match, with Spanish defender Carlos Cuellar the latest to be ruled out of Wednesday's game. He joins Rangers captain Barry Ferguson, Steven Naismith, Chris Burke and American winger DaMarcus Beasley on the treatment table, after he picked up a calf strain in a pre-season friendly against Scottish Second Division side Raith Rovers.

However, Lee McCulloch and Kevin Thomson, who both missed the match against Raith, are expected to be available for the game against Kaunas. Midfielder McCulloch's throat infection has cleared and Thomson has recovered from a knock he sustained in training.