Battered but not breached, and certainly not beaten in this Uefa Cup semi-final at Ibrox last night, Rangers' dream of a quadruple lives on. A goalless home draw is not usually a reason to celebrate, but for a half-strength team under pressure on all fronts, this was. Roll on Florence.
Despite heavy pressure from classier opponents – against whom an old man of the game, the 37-year-old defender, David Weir, played like a young buck of a colossus to keep the Italians at bay – Walter Smith's side will travel to Tuscany next week with a Manchester final on their minds, and still within reach.
"We're faced with a situation that we've faced successfully before," said Smith. "We have to go away from home needing to score. We've done it before and, hopefully, we can do it again."
In the quarter-finals, Rangers drew 0-0 at home to Sporting Lisbon but won 2-0 on road to progress. In the last 32, they drew 0-0 at home to Panathinaikos but drew 1-1 away to get through. Earlier in the season, in the Champions League, they scored regularly on their travels, notably in a 3-0 win at Lyons, the champions of France.
"If you look at the games in Europe when we've drawn at home, I feel it's an important factor that you don't concede that away goal," Smith said. "It gives you an opportunity in the away leg. We can take a lot of confidence from our away games in Europe this season. We've got a chance here now, and we're pleased to get it. The away game will hold no fear for us."
Smith was missing an entire first-choice midfield last night among six injuries and two suspensions. His first-choice central pairing, Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson, will both be back from bans next week, but Charlie Adam and Lee McCulloch, who would probably have played wide, will not be fit.
In the absence of such key figures, a good defensive display was always going to be a priority, and it was provided by Weir, his fellow centre-half Carlos Cuellar, and goalkeeper Neil Alexander, standing in for Scotland's custodian of the season, Allan McGregor, who may not play again for months because of torn ankle ligaments.
Smith praised Weir, who is 38 next month, saying: "When you look back at when we got him [free from Everton] 16 months ago, I never expected in my wildest dreams that he would play the number of games he has. That he has done so is entirely to his own credit. He's a fantastic professional and a good guy, to boot."
When Smith took over 16 months ago, he would not have imagined either the extent to which he would revamp Rangers in so short a time. Under Paul Le Guen they had become shambolic and impotent. Now, they have the CIS Cup in the trophy room, and the SPL, the Scottish Cup and European silverware in sight.
Fiorentina have a stirring renaissance tale of their own, of course, albeit over six years since they went bankrupt in 2002 and effectively ceased to exist. Reborn in the Italy's fourth tier and renamed, they were back in Serie A by 2004 via a controversial "double promotion" in 2003 and then the play-offs a year later. Cesare Prandelli arrived as coach. They reached the Champions League, but in 2006 were dumped back to Serie B because of the match-fixing scandal, reinstated on appeal to the top flight with a 15-point penalty last season and yet still managed to reach Europe.
Even after selling Luca Toni, they retain the born-again Adrian Mutu as part of a three-man attack and, as Smith had predicted, it was not only Mutu who caused them problems, although he was certainly a nuisance, snapping an early shot that Alexander held.
Rangers broke free in the 16th minute, Jean-Claude Darcheville running onto Steven Whittaker's pass up the left and dashing into the area, but his cross-cum-shot was blocked. A counter-attack was cut dead by Weir, who headed away another dangerous ball into the box moments later. Alexander then saved a long-range shot from Martin Jorgensen.
Weir snuffed out an attempted one-two between Mutu and Giampaolo Pazzini, and won every challenge of many in the air. The closest either side came to a goal in the opening period followed Zdravko Kuzmanovic's incisive ball into the box but the referee blew for an infringement as Alexander palmed away a knock-on.
Rangers were too often tentative in possession and chances were limited to low-odds efforts, Novo's failed lob over an off-his-line keeper being one. Smith introduced fresh legs but, if anything, it made Rangers more ponderous, and Fiorentina nearly went ahead, in the 76th minute. Alexander made a smart diving save to stop Mutu's fierce shot.
Rangers (4-1-4-1): Alexander; Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Hemdani; Novo (Buffel, 59), Dailly, Davis, Whittaker; Darcheville (Cousin, 60). Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Boyd, Gow, Webster, Faye.
Fiorentina (4-3-3): Frey; Jorgensen, Gamberini, Ujfalusi, Gobbi; Kuzmanovic, Liverani, Montolivo; Santana, Pazzini (Vieri, 81), Mutu. Substitutes not used: Avramov (gk), Kroldrup, Dainelli, Potenza, Osvaldo, Pasqual.
Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).Reuse content