Nacho Novo and Neil Alexander were the heroes as 10-man Rangers booked a place in the Uefa Cup final following a gruelling semi-final tie against Fiorentina. Novo kept his cool to convert the decisive penalty after Alexander had saved from Fabio Liverani and Christian Vieri had missed in a tense penalty shoot-out.
The full 210 minutes of football failed to separate the two clubs as the tie finished goalless. But Rangers will now feature in their first European final since lifting the European Cup Winners' Cup back in 1972, when they face their former manager Dick Advocaat's Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester on 14 May. The Russian side had earlier thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 to win 5-1 on aggregate.
The result keeps Rangers on course for the quadruple. They have already won the League Cup, lead the SPL and are in the Scottish Cup final against Queen of the South. "This takes a bit of beating – it's an emotional night," said Rangers manager Walter Smith. "Over the season, not just in this evening's game, the spark and determination shown by my team has been fantastic. But when I saw the level of commitment from my players who were able to keep the game 0-0, it gives me great joy."
Captain Barry Ferguson saw the opening penalty in the shoot-out well saved by Sebastien Frey. "I feared the worst," said Smith. "But I'm proud of all the boys that stepped up because it takes a lot of courage." However, Smith was not surprised by Novo's cool approach as he converted the crucial penalty. "Novo practises penalties on a regular basis," he said.
Rangers were boosted before the game by the news that David Weir was fit enough to take part to join Carlos Cuellar in the heart of defence. It was defences that dominated as chances were few and far between for both sides in a cagey opening spell and when Riccardo Montolivo eventually tried his luck with a shot from distance Alexander was up to the task of denying him. A scuffed shot from Adrian Mutu was also collected by the goalkeeper before Montolivo blasted well over.
Mutu attempted to spark the tie into life after the restart when he collected a long ball from Santana only to screw wide under pressure from Kirk Broadfoot. The former Chelsea striker turned provider when he whipped a teasing cross to the feet of Giampaolo Pazzini who stabbed a shot inches past the near upright.
In extra time Daniel Cousin who had already been booked, was shown a second yellow card when he head-butted Liverani but Rangers survived.
Fiorentina (4-3-3): Frey; Jorgensen, Gamberini, Ujfalusi, Gobbi; Donadel (Kuzmanovi, 42), Liverani, Montolivo; Santana (Semioli, 94) , Pazzini (Vieri, 79), Mutu. Substitutes not used: Avramov, Dainelli, Osvaldo, Pasqual.
Rangers (4-5-1): Alexander; Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Hemdani, Davis (Novo, 81), Ferguson, Thomson, Whittaker; Darcheville (Cousin, 65). Substitutes not used: G Smith, Buffel, Boyd, Dailly, Faye.
Referee: F De Bleeckere (Belguim).Reuse content