It was a Euro glory night for Rangers on Thursday as they reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history with a 2-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon IN Lisbon. Goals from Jean-Claude Darcheville and Steven Whittaker sent Rangers into their first European semi-final since 1972 – the year they went on to win the Cup Winners Cup.
Rangers went into this game as underdogs after a 0-0 first leg draw at Ibrox. No away goals had been lost but Rangers also failed to scored meaning they HAD to score away. With David Weir suspended for this one, Walter Smith brought Christian Dailly into central defence, other than that though it was a familiar looking back four with Papac, Cuellar and Broadfoot joining Dailly. McGregor was in goal as usual. Smith packed the midfield with Brahim Hemdani protecting the defence and Davis, Ferguson, Thomson and McCulloch making up the midfield five. Darcheville was again handed the lone striker role despite Daniel Cousin being fit again.
Darcheville had a glorious chance early on to snatch a vital away goal for Rangers when a Hemdani pass put him clean through on the goalkeeper. He seemed a bit surprised to be presented with the chance and fluffed his shot shooting straight at the young goalkeeper.
After Rangers were much criticised in the first leg for their poor play and in particular poor passing, they looked much better in this game and were in actual fact playing the ball around very well. It was a good pitch and it seemed to suit the Rangers players well. Some of the players were rested at the weekend and it showed. Steven Davis in particular looked back to his best after having a poor game last week.
Sporting’s best chance of the first half came when Romagnoli floated a free-kick into the Rangers box and Brazilian striker Leidson rose above Christian Dailly to get a head to it. Leidson was so unlucky to see his effort come off the face of the post, much to the relief of Allan McGregor who had no chance and had given it up.
Vukcevic and Miguel Veloso had chances before half-time but neither them forced McGregor into a save and the game ended 0-0 at half-time. Sporting came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and gave Rangers a bit of a torrid time, but Rangers defence coped with everything that was thrown at them and again McGregor didn’t have much to do. The only save of note was a shot from distance that went straight at him and he clutched the ball to his chest.
Rangers then grabbed the vital away goal which gave Sporting a mountain to climb. The Gers broke up the field in a counter-attack. The ball was launched up field and was met by the head of Darcheville who put it in the direction of Steven Davis. Davis then ran down the right hand side and delivered an inch perfect pass back to Darcheville who had continued his run. Darcheville showed great composure to slide the ball past the Sporting goalkeeper to make it 1-0. Darcheville proceeded to the touchline to carry out his trademark celebration before being mobbed by his delighted team mates.
Walter Smith brought the hero of the hour Darcheville off and replaced him with Daniel Cousin. He also brought off McCulloch who had ran himself into the ground and also picked up a knock to the head and replaced him with Steven Whittaker.
Sporting threw everything they could at Rangers and gave them some worrying moments, but the Gers’ defence was equal to everything that was thrown at them and infact almost sealed the game when Davis ran down the right in what was almost a carbon copy of the first goal and delivered a similar ball in. Cousin showed great strength to squeeze a shot in but hit the side netting.
Rangers however did get that second goal, deep into injury time. Steven Whittaker slid in to make a timely tackle in his own half and then proceeded to take the ball a run up the middle of the pitch to kill time. But with the stretched Sporting defence panacking, space began to open up, and with Cousin on Whittaker’s right hand side everyone was screaming for Whittaker to pass it, but the ex Hibernian player decided to go himself and he unleashed a shot which went past the goalkeeper and into the net for what was a glorious goal. Rangers were now in dreamland.
When the final whistle went the players ran onto the pitch to celebrate and went over to their travelling support to show their appreciation. The only down side was the bookings of Kevin Thomson and Barry Ferguson who will both now miss the first leg of the semi-final which will be against Fiorentina of Italy. Ferguson’s booking in particular was needless after he was booked for booting the ball away.
This was one of Rangers’ best ever results in Europe and all credit has to go to Walter Smith who received a lot of criticism last week, which was below the belt it has to be said. Smith could be on his way to his most successful season ever. Rangers are hot favourites to win the SPL and the Scottish Cup which would complete the domestic treble, and they are now within one tie of the UEFA Cup Final, and who knows, maybe even the quadruple is on.
Rangers became only the third team to beat Sporting Lisbon on their own patch this season. Only Fatima (in a low key league cup game) and Manchester United in the Champions League have managed to beat them at home this season.
Sporting Lisbon: Rui Patricio, Abel, Gladstone (Bruno Pereirinha 69), Tonel, Grimi (Tiui 76), Joao Moutinho, Veloso, Romagnoli, Izmailov (Djalo 62), Liedson, Vukcevic.
Subs Not Used: Tiago, Adrien Silva, Ronny, Farnerud.
Rangers: McGregor, Broadfoot, Cuellar, Dailly, Papac, Hemdani, Davis, Ferguson, Thomson, McCulloch (Whittaker 77), Darcheville (Cousin 72).
Subs Not Used: Alexander, Boyd, Novo, Burke, Naismith.
Ref: Konrad Plautz (Austria)