Plucky Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Fiorentina in the semi-final second leg on Thursday.A
After captain Barry Ferguson and Fabio Liverani had seen their efforts saved, veteran striker Cristian Vieri blasted his penalty over the bar leaving Nacho Novo to slot home and give Rangers a 4-2 win.
It was rough justice on the hosts who, dominated their opponents over both 0-0 legs of what was often a dire tie, due in no small part to Rangers’ defensive tactics.
Russians Zenit St Petersburg await in the final at the City of Manchester stadium on May 14 after they thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 for a 5-1 aggregate victory.
Rangers set out their stall to defend and did so effectively while Fiorentina had neither the guile nor the explosiveness to break them down.
More than 20 minutes had passed before the hosts managed a couple of shots on goal but neither Riccardo Montolivo nor Adrian Mutu could trouble Neil Alexander in the Rangers goal.
Fiorentina stepped up the pressure after the break and on 52 minutes the hosts finally created something dangerous as Pazzini nipped in front of his marker to meet Mutu’s left wing cross but the young striker volleyed just wide.
The hosts came close again as Alexander spilled a 30m strike from Mutu but the goalkeeper gathered it again just before Pazzini could pounce.
The entire second half was being played out in Rangers’s half with La Viola’s French goalkeeper Sebastien Frey a spectator.
He finally had a shot to save when Steven Davis got on the end of a long ball forward, but his poke failed to trouble Frey.
Rangers had a rare chance when Steven Whittaker robbed Massimo Gobbi but Frey was equal to his curling far post effort and substitute Novo’s follow-up was blocked.
A couple of minutes into extra time Vieri produced a flash of his old self as he strode onto a through ball only to drag his shot just wide.
Rangers went closest through French forward Daniel Cousins when his deflected shot looped just over the bar with Frey beaten.
Cousins didn’t last much longer as he was sent off in the second half of extra-time after putting his head on Liverani’s
Zenit booked their place in the final by making Bayern look average in their semi-final, second leg.
Having triumphed 4-1 over Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-final, Zenit again over-powered a Bundesliga side and left the German giants reeling with a 5-1 defeat on aggregate.
After last week’s first leg finished 1-1 when an own goal from Brazilian Lucio boosted the Russians, Bayern had to score in St Petersburg to stay in the competition, but never looked like breaking the Zenit defense.
Zenit got the perfect start when Pavel Pogrebnyak smashed his free-kick at the Bayern wall and Franck Ribery’s leap allowed the ball to fly under his legs into the Munich net after just four minutes.
And things got worse for the German giants when Konstantin Zyrianov held off Ze Roberto’s challenge to fire past Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn on 39 minutes to make it 2-0 at half-time.
Both the match and the tie were effectively ended as a contest when Victor Fayzulin headed past Kahn on 54 minutes to make it 3-0.
Pogrebnyak shot past Kahn to complete the rout on 73 minutes.