STEVEN WHITTAKER helped give Rangers fans one of their best nights in Europe on the road to the Uefa Cup final in 2008 - and is convinced his old club can embark on another long run in next season’s Champions League.

The Ibrox club will return to the continent’s premier competition for the first time in a decade when they enter the third qualifying round in early August.

Whittaker admits no-one would have envisaged back in 2011 just what would unfold for the Light Blues over the next 10 years, but he is thrilled to see them back as Scottish champions and preparing to mix it with Europe's best in the star-studded tournament.

Rangers will be seeded and will need to negotiate just two ties to reach the lucrative group stages, and Whittaker has high hopes that Steven Gerrard’s team can replicate some of the club’s heroics of the recent past.

He said: “I suppose we would never even have expected what happened [to Rangers after 2011] and then to take that long to get back, but that’s just the way that it unfolded.

"It is great to see them back there and winning titles again. That is what they are all about and it is a pity that it took as long as it did, but obviously Steven Gerard has gone in there and done a fantastic job.

"He has got them playing some fantastic stuff, I really enjoyed watching them. It is good seeing them back where they belong.

“In the year we made the Uefa Cup final we had the champions of France in Lyon, the German champions with Stuttgart and then Barcelona.

"No one gave us a hope of getting through and we went into the last game against Lyon needing just a draw to finish second.

“We lost and ended up in the Uefa Cup but no matter who you come up against in the Champions League, it is a cliche, but it is 11 against 11 and you always have a chance.

“Rangers have shown over the past few years with their results in Europe against some big teams that they are more than capable of holding their own.”

Whittaker would rather forget Rangers’ last flirtation with the glamour of the Champions League. His red card in the defeat to Malmo in 2011, for throwing the ball at Jimmy Durmaz, was a career low.

But, reflecting on his career after hanging up his boots to move into the Peter Grant’s coaching team at Dunfermline this summer, the 36-year-old’s incredible mazy solo effort to seal a 2-0 victory over Sporting in injury-time in their 2008 Uefa Cup quarter-final brings back happier memories.

He added: “The red card in Malmo was a reaction to something and it is a moment I learned a lot from. It cost the team that day and I was so disappointed with myself.

“On reflection, it probably stopped me doing things like that more often. It was a high-profile game and it was a learning experience for me, and one I was gutted with.

“But the goal against Sporting Lisbon is a special one for me.

“A lot of Rangers fans refer to the goal and that night as one of the best nights following the club in Europe. That night was such a memorable night for me and for the club.

"I also scored in the semi-final against Fiorentina with one of the five penalties before Nacho Novo rolled in the winner to take us to the final. It was probably the most important penalty or kick I have ever faced.

“Barry Ferguson had missed the first penalty and the four of us behind him knew we had to score.

“After seeing Barry miss I knew how important it was to score, so there was massive pressure on me. We thankfully got there in the end.”