Scottish Football: New Firm rivals meet at Hampden with much to prove

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The Independent Online
IN THE first of two Tennents Scottish Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park this weekend, Aberdeen meet Dundee United today with both sets of players having something to prove to themselves and their supporters, writes David McKinney.

The term New Firm, which is readily applied whenever the two meet, has become a misnomer, as neither has been able to break the stranglehold enjoyed by Rangers in recent times. Aberdeen have come closer, finishing runners-up to Rangers in every competition over the course of the last few years, but the doubt remains that they can match their Glasgow rivals on the big occasion.

However, they must first get past a United side who have been reshaped by Ivan Golac, their manager. The Tayside team have never won the trophy, despite making six final appearances since 1974, but Golac will not allow his men to dwell in the past.

'My players are fit and hungry and ready for success,' he said, indicating that younger players like David Hannah, Alex Cleland and Gary Bollan might come into contention. Aberdeen are ready to bring back Theo Snelders, the Dutch goalkeeper who has been missing for a month with a shoulder injury.

The popular belief is that, in tomorrow's game, Rangers will sweep away Kilmarnock to reach their third Scottish Cup final in as many years, but the Ibrox management insists that a tough task lies ahead of them. 'We have had to work hard against them this season in the League and they will look to recapture their early-season form,' Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, said. Killie won 2-1 at Ibrox in August, but Rangers then had severe injury problems.

Andy Goram, the Rangers goalkeeper, will be out of action for a week or two after damaging a thigh muscle against Dundee United in midweek. However, there might be a place for Duncan Ferguson in the starting line-up, and Ian Ferguson, John Brown and David Robertson are available after missing the midweek game.

Kilmarnock, who are appearing in their first semi-final in this competition since 1972, could include in their ranks Alan McInally, the former Celtic, Aston Villa and Bayern Munich striker. The Ayrshire club are the latest to attempt to ruin Rangers' treble hopes. If they fail, Aberdeen and Dundee United will be more than willing to take up the challenge.