Stylish, perhaps not. Dramatic, without question. That sums up Rangers' win on penalties at Fiorentina in the Uefa Cup semi-final late on Thursday night after a 120-minute battle not to concede a goal, latterly with 10 men. It could yet be the campaign's epitaph.
Eight games from history, Walter Smith's side have already won the CIS Cup, travel to Hibernian tomorrow on SPL duty with a league title still in their sights (and five other SPL games to play), face Zenit St Petersburg in the Uefa Cup final in Manchester on 14 May, and will end a 68-match season with a Scottish Cup final against Queen of the South on 24 May.
The Quadruple dream is alive, and if, by the standards of Manchester United and Chelsea (both still chasing Premier League and Champions' League doubles) there is an element of "it's only Scotland" and "only the Uefa Cup", it is worth repeating that no team in the world, ever, aside from Celtic in 1967, has won its domestic top division, plus two major domestic cups, plus major continental silverware in the same season.
Rangers remain on course to do so. And for a club in disarray when Smith returned to Ibrox 16 months ago – back to a "selling" club that flogged its best player, Alan Hutton, to Tottenham in January, and would have offloaded one of its main strikers, Daniel Cousin, to Fulham in January for £3m but for Fifa red tape – that is some achievement.
Fiorentina's coach, Cesare Prandelli, said that "a team that didn't want to play has been rewarded". This rather ignored the fact that his flair-laden team could not find the net, and was ironic in the land of catenaccio. David Weir and Carlos Cuellar were again immense in Rangers' defence.
Smith himself admitted: "At a certain point we decided to aim for 0-0 because it was the only way to escape with a positive result." That is pragmatism, and it was inspired by an injury crisis that could have kept a cottage hospital in business for large portions of the season.
Smith has been without winger DaMarcus Beasley since November, and first-choice goalkeeper Allan McGregor and midfielder-forward Lee McCulloch since 16 April. All would have started on Thursday. Smith's captain, Barry Ferguson, probably needs ankle surgery and hobbled in Florence, while Weir, 38 next week, played while recovering from a groin strain. Four other regular first-teamers are also out.
For an exhausted, patched-up team to keep a clean sheet then hold their nerve to triumph in a shoot-out requires reserves of sheer bloody-mindedness, and should also instil fresh belief for the next 21 days.
Celtic, who play Motherwell today, can raise the pressure with a win that would take them eight points clear in the SPL. But Rangers will have four games in hand before they kick off at Hibs, and even Celtic's manager, Gordon Strachan, yesterday praised Rangers' "fantastic achievement" of reaching a European final.Reuse content