Weir absence harms Rangers' ambition of clinching final place
Wednesday 30 April 2008
The Scottish Football Association chief executive, Gordon Smith, will not be surprised to see Rangers overcome Fiorentina to reach the Uefa Cup final in Manchester. Rangers fly out to Florence today ahead of tomorrow's second leg of their semi-final needing a positive result after a goalless draw at Ibrox last week.
Celtic reached the Uefa Cup final in Seville in 2003 only to be beaten by Porto, and Smith insists another European final appearance by a Scottish club would be a shot in the arm for the domestic game. Smith, who had two spells as a player with Rangers in the 1970s and 1980s, believes his former club have the potential to go all the way. He said: "It would be good for the image of the game if Rangers got to the final, in the same way it was when Celtic got to Seville in 2003.
"It would give the game a boost and put Scottish football back in the reckoning. Everyone took notice when Celtic reached the final and this would be a similar situation. It will be Rangers' 18th match in Europe this season, which shows that it is harder than ever to win a European trophy. But they have the potential to do it and I wouldn't be surprised if they did.
"They have produced some great results in Europe this season," Smith added. "Maybe this is just one great result too many but they have produced great results when least expected so it wouldn't surprise me if they got through."
The former Scotland and Everton striker Graeme Sharp believes the loss of defender David Weir could cost Rangers their final place.
Weir misses the trip to Florence after sustaining a groin strain in Sunday's Premier League defeat by Celtic at Parkhead. Walter Smith's squad will travel to Italy also missing goalkeeper Allan McGregor, Lee McCulloch, Steven Naismith, Charlie Adam and DaMarcus Beasley.
Everton exited on penalties in the last 16 to the Serie A side at Goodison Park after recovering a 2-0 deficit from the first game in the Artemio Franchi stadium.
Sharp witnessed both matches and said that while the Viola are "no great shakes" Rangers' injury problems – and the loss of Weir in particular – could prove significant.
"I have to say I was disappointed in Fiorentina. They were no great shakes," he said. "Everton didn't turn up on the night over in Italy and lost 2-0 but if they had, I'm sure we would have gone through over the two legs.
"They didn't know what had hit them in the second leg at Goodison but it just wasn't enough. Rangers can get through but it will be difficult and their injuries could be their downfall.
"Fiorentina are at home, there will be a partisan crowd inside the stadium and the tie is scoreless, so I have to favour them. If Rangers had their full squad to choose from then I would be more confident about their chances.
"David Weir will be a big loss to Walter's side," Sharp added. "He's not the quickest, as everyone knows, but he is experienced and can read the game very well. Whoever comes in for him will have to play well but certainly Rangers have nothing to fear."
Sharp pinpointed former Chelsea player Adrian Mutu as the man Rangers must watch with care. He said: "Fiorentina are a typical Italian side, compact and difficult to break down. They have a strong defence and didn't give Everton much of a chance in Italy even though we didn't play well. Christian Vieri didn't do much against Everton in the second game and was substituted.
"He looked overweight and I don't think the Rangers defence have anything to worry about with him. But if Mutu plays to his best then he will be a threat. However, it's a semi-final and it's all about who plays well on the night. If Rangers don't concede then it's possible that they can snatch it but it will certainly be difficult."
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