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Rangers through to UEFA Cup final after shoot-out drama

SoccerNews in Serie A, UEFA Europa League 2 May 2008

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Plucky Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Fiorentina in the semi-final second leg here on Thursday.

After captain Barry Ferguson and Fabio Liverani had seen their efforts saved, veteran striker Cristian Vieri blasted his penalty miles over the bar leaving Nacho Novo to slot home and give Rangers a 4-2 win.

It was rough justice on the hosts who, dominated their opponents over both 0-0 legs of what was often a dire tie, due in no small part to Rangers' negative and defensive tactics.

Rangers manager Walter Smith said he was delighted by the spirit and determination his team has shown this season.

The Scots will meet Russians Zenit St Petersburg in the May 14 final at the City of Manchester stadium, reuniting them with former boss Dick Advocaat.

“For us to have put the team together that we have done in a short space of time and build up the spirit and determination shown through the season is fantastic,” he said.

“I thought I was at the stage where European finals were past me so from a personal point of view I'm delighted.”

Smith acknowledged that their hosts had been the better side but he preferred to give his team credit for their defensive solidity.

“I don't think Fiorentina could have done a lot more, we're difficult to score against.”

Smith was also pleased he now has the opportunity to lock horns with Advocaat after Zenit thrashed German giants Bayern Munich 4-0 to complete a 5-1 aggregate victory.

“I'm delighted Zenit got there, it was a fantastic result for them tonight. I'm looking forward to meeting Dick in the final.”

La Viola coach Cesare Prandelli said his team could not have done much more and that they deserved to have got to the final.

But he said luck hadn't been on their side.

“I'm very disappointed, we played better than Rangers and we deserve to be in the final, but this is sport and you have to accept that,” he said.

After both managers had promised in the pre-match press conferences that this match would be nothing like last week's bore draw at Ibrox, it seemed as if they had forgotten to mention that to the players.

Rangers set out their stall to defend and did so effectively while Fiorentina had neither the guile nor the explosiveness to break them down.

More than 20 minutes had passed before the hosts managed a couple of shots on goal but neither Riccardo Montolivo nor Adrian Mutu could trouble Neil Alexander in the Rangers goal.

Some of La Viola's build up play was neat but they didn't look like they would score.

Fiorentina fashioned a chance from a clever free-kick routine but Mutu's shot was blocked by the fit-again David Weir.

More intricate build up play saw Giampaolo Pazzini break into the box but his backheel to Mutu was cleared by Bosnian Sasa Papac.

Fiorentina stepped up the pressure after the break, possibly following a lambasting from coach Cesare Prandelli.

On 52 minutes the hosts finally created something dangerous as Pazzini nipped in front of his marker to meet Mutu's left wing cross but the young striker volleyed just wide.

Fiorentina started turning the screw and on the hourmark, Czech captain and centre half Tomas Ujfalusi thrashed a volley just over the bar from Serbian substitute Zdravko Kuzmanovic's cross.

The hosts came close again as Alexander spilled a 30-yard strike from Mutu but the goalkeeper gathered it again just before Pazzini could pounce.

The entire second half was being played out in Rangers' half with La Viola's French goalkeeper Sebastien Frey a bored spectator.

He finally had a shot to save when Steven Davis got on the end of a long ball forward, but his poke failed to trouble Frey.

Prandelli threw on Vieri for Pazzini for the last 10 minutes and he almost had an immediate impact, but he couldn't turn home Alessandro Gamberini's header.

Rangers had a rare chance when Steven Whittaker robbed Massimo Gobbi but Frey was equal to his curling far post effort and substitute Novo's follow-up was blocked.

A couple of minutes into extra time Vieri produced a flash of his old self as he strode onto a through ball only to drag his shot just wide.

Rangers went closest through French forward Daniel Cousins when his deflected shot looped just over the bar with Frey beaten.

Cousins didn't last much longer as he was sent off in the second half of extra-time after putting his head on Liverani's.

Liverani's reaction was exaggerated but Cousins had already been booked for a flailing arm and a second yellow saw him dismissed.

Even with 10-men Rangers came close late on but Frey clawed the ball away from goal after it had bounced off Novo.

Then, with almost the last kick of the game, Vieri volleyed into the side-netting from close range.

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