Posts Tagged ‘Rangers’

UEFA Cup 2007-08 FINAL – Zenit 2-0 Rangers: the Scottish Fort Surrenders to the Russian Armada

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Three years after CSKA Moscow’s victory against Sporting, the UEFA Cup returns to Russia. To Saint Petersburg to be precise and into the trophy room of FC Zenit, who will be adding their first European cup to their club history record. At the City of Manchester stadium (home of Man City), the club sponsored by gas superpower Gazprom beat Rangers by 2-0, and prevented the Scottish team from returning to glory, 35 years after their Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in 1973.

There will be no “quadruple” for manager Walter Smith this year. but no result was ever more just that Wednesday night’s match. After Villareal, Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen, and Bayern Munich, the Russian Premier League champions got rid of Rangers as well, and by the looks of it that may not be their last European victim yet. UEFA Champions League teams beware…

As expected, this wasn’t exactly a match with great footy on the menu. Zenit may well have delighted neutral spectactors with their speed, technique and goalscoring abilities, when it came down to breaking up Rangers’ iron defense, their play was shall we say… blocked. Walter Smith’s 4-5-1 tactics (with Jean-claude Darcheville the only man not defending behind the ball) had done wonders to get Rangers to the final, so there was really no reason to change them for their most decisive match. The only thing that could have “unlocked” the monotony and ultra-tactical focus of the first half (a goal namely) didn’t arrive, and it wasn’t short of Tekke, Arshavin, and Fazyulin trying. The absence of UEFA Cup topscorer (tied with Luca Toni) Pavel Pogrebnyak was leaving a mark…

In the second period, same story: Zenit tryed to open things up, Rangers immediately closed them down. In minute 55 however, the Gers could have taken a surprising lead: Darcheville broke through the Zenit defense, and forced keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to a save. The ball couldn’t be cleared, it landed to Barry Ferguson and eventually struck the post before going wide. Rangers’ big chance was followed by another shortly after (not quite as big) through Steven Whittaker, but the biggest of the match was reserved for Zenit (through the feet of talented Andrei Arshavin). Through on goal on the left wing, and skipping past Gers keeper Neil Alexander, the Russian winger couldn’t however shoot fast enough and allowed Saša Papac to clear his chipped shot on the line.

There was little Rangers could do in minute 72 though, as Igor Denisov broke through after a lovely passing exchange with Arshavin, and torpedoed Alexander with a low shot to his left. 1-0 Zenit, and decidedly not the ideal situation for Walter Smith, both tactically and psychologically. Indeed, not only was his team now forced to attack (uncommon) but they had less than 20 minutes to do so. Psychologically in particular, the shock was quite hard to absorb because Zenit could have doubled their lead, and only a few minutes after their first goal (Zyryanov receiving from Arshavin and hitting the post).

Smith then brought on strikers Lee McCulloch and Kris Boyd, and it almost looked as if Rangers could ring an equalizer (their biggest chance coming through Nacho Novo) right before the end of the match. Instead, Zenit put the final nail in the Gers’ coffin deep into stoppage time: Fatih Tekke got through on the left, applied a cushy cross for Konstantin Zyryanov who then only had to tap it in. 2-0 Zenit and game over. Dick Advocaat’s mission was accomplished: after bringing glory to Rangers for so many years, the Dutch manager had put Zenit on the top of Europe. One thing is for sure now though: no one will be underestimating the Russian team anymore…


 FC Zenit St. Petersburg ZENIT-RANGERS
[Match Highlights]
 Rangers F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 72’ Denisov (Z), 93’ Zyrianov (Z)
ZENIT (4-3-2-1): Malafeev – Anyukov, Shirokov, Krizanac, Sirl – Zyrianov, Tymoschuk, Denisov – Fayzulin (92’ Kim Dong) Arshavin – Tekke. (bench: Contofalsky, Radimov, Dominguez, Ricksen, Ionov, Gorshkov). Coach: Advocaat.
RANGERS (4-5-1): Alexander – Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac (76’ Novo) – Davis, Hemdani (81’ McCulloch), B.Ferguson, Thomson, Whittaker (86’ Boyd) – Darcheville. (bench: G. Smith, Dailly, Faye, Adam). Coach: W.Smith.


Fiorentina 0-0 Rangers: Heartbreak for La Viola, Rangers Advance to the Final on Penalties (UEFA Cup Semi-Finals, Leg 2)

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

What a shame. They played better, they had more scoring chances, and they deserved a win, yet Fiorentina‘s 2008 UEFA Cup adventure ends in the Semi-Finals. The cruel fate of penalty kicks, which has plagued Italians so many times in the past (but which after the 2006 World Cup seemed to be a forgiven affair), condemned the more talented and technical side.

La Viola’s last penalty kick by Bobo Vieri, sent miles over Neil Alexander’s crossbar, is unfortunately the lasting image of a Fiorentina-dominated match, 120 minutes where Rangers did the best with they had. Walter Smith’s all-out defense tactic, hoping the match would come down to a shootout, eventually rewarded the visitors, who will now be contending the UEFA Cup trophy to other surprise finalists, FC Zenit.

Before the match started, the entire Artemio Franchi stadium (joined by La Viola’s youngsters and “old glories”) joined together to sing Fiorentina’s anthem, sort of a “thank you” ritual for the excellent season the team has been having this year. The 40,000 Viola spectators then turned their singing into chanting, supporting their team as the return leg of the UEFA Cup Semi-Finals began. And support they would need, because right from the start Rangers’ tactics were to disrupt their opponents’ passing game in the center, and rely on fast counter-attacks to obtain a valuable away goal. The scoring chances therefore, took quite a while to arrive.

To find the first shot on goal, we had to wait till minute 20, a Riccardo Montolivo mid-range effort which Neil Alexander had no trouble neutralizing. A few minutes later, another shot by the Viola midfielder grazed the crossbar and it seemed as if in this portion of the game, long-range efforts would be the only way Fiorentina could produce anything tangible. Eventually however, the forward runs by Mario Santana and dangerous ball controlling abilities of Adrian Mutu seemed to stir up the Scottish defense, and it looked that if they tried long enough, a goal would arrive for Fiorentina before the half.

Unfortunately, the injury of Marco Donadel (replaced by Zdravko Kuzmanovic) came in the way of these plans, and the match rapidly reverted to its previous stale-mate, with David Weir attentively man-marking Gianpaolo Pazzini and preventing him from doing anything but pass the ball backwards, and Barry Ferguson asphyxiating the playmaking abilities of Fabio Liverani. Not even the generous runs forward of Martin Jorgensen (once again playing in the right-back position) could muster anything for the home team, and the first half thus ended scoreless. 0-0 at the break.

In the second period, the movie script did not change much for Rangers. Containment was their main motivation, even though La Viola’s initiatives were progressively getting more dangerous. Mutu and Pazzini in particular, combined skilfully in the 51st minute when the Romanian striker got down on the left and delivered a perfect cross, but the U21 Azzurrino’s deflection was narrowly wide of the mark. Minutes later, a great rebound shot by Tomas Ujfalusi grazed the crossbar, as the Rangers’ defense progressively started to get more shaky and permit additional space to their opponents.

Shortly after a good free-kick combination between Liverani and Mutu (slammed hard onto the Rangers keeper, who narrowly controlled the ball before Pazzini’s winning tap-in), Cesare Prandelli decided to play the ‘Bobo’ card. Vieri’s 34 years of age don’t permit him to hold more than 60 minutes, but seeing a possible overtime on the horizon, the Fiorentina coach thought it was time to bring in the ex-Italian international, possibly in order to find a winning header on a corner-kick. Bobo actually came quite close on a number of occasions, but either ended up making a mess of the ball or shot it miles over the crossbar. On their part, Rangers reacted with their dangerous counter-attacks (through Daniel Cousin and Steven Whittaker notably), but Sebastien Frey was ready. After 90 minutes still no score… time for extra time.

Continuing onto his work from the second period, Vieri immediately came close with a very good chance from the left, but narrowly missed his aim wide of the post. Prandelli inserted Franco Semioli for Santana in order to give more energy to his attacking trio, but at this point Rangers had decided it was time to hold down the fort. Barely even coming out of their own half, the Scottish visitors found a way to patch up their leaks and kept the net of Alexander safe until the final minute.

Before the ill-fated penalty shootout sequence, there was time for Fiorentina to come close to scoring once again, notably through Adrian Mutu (great volleyed effort deflected by a defender) and Christian Vieri (shots narrowly wide, or over the crossbar). It just seemed it wasn’t going to happen for Fiorentina today because even when it came down to the spot-kicks, Frey gave La Viola’s supporters the illusion of qualification by parrying Ferguson’s first shot, only to take it away moments later with the mistakes of Liverani and Vieri.

With 3 matches left in the Serie A, Cesare Prandelli’s consolation should be aplenty however, if Fiorentina manage to hold their 4th Champions League-qualifying spot at the expense of AC Milan. This time, there won’t be any penalty shootouts involved.


0-0 (4-2 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
 Rangers F.C.
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Ferguson (R) saved, Kuzmanovic (F) goal, Whittaker (R) goal, Montolivo (F) goal, Papac (R) goal, Liverani (F) saved, Hemdani (R) goal, Vieri (F) wide, Novo (R) goal.
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Jorgensen, Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Gobbi – Donadel (42’ Kuzmanovic), Liverani, Montolivo – Santana (95’ Semioli), Pazzini (78’ Vieri), Mutu. (bench: Avramov, Dainelli, Osvaldo, Pasqual). Coach: Prandelli.
RANGERS (4-4-1-1): Alexander – Broadfoot, Carlos Cuellar, Weir, Papac – Davis (80’ Novo), Hemdani, Thomson, Whittaker – B.Ferguson – Darcheville (64’ Cousin). (bench: G.Smith, Buffel, Boyd, Dailly, Faye). Coach: W.Smith


Rangers 0-0 Fiorentina: Boring Draw at Ibrox, La Viola Can’t Find the Goal Against a Decimated Rangers Side (UEFA Cup Semi-Finals, Leg 1)

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Seems like catenaccio tactics are in-vogue in European competitions lately. After Barcelona vs. Manchester another UEFA match ended with the boring scoreline of 0-0, only this time you can’t really fault the user. With over 9 players missing due to suspension or injury, defense was really the only option left for Rangers against Fiorentina, in spite of the fact they were playing the first leg at home. Manager Walter Smith had declared that above all, avoiding to concede an away goal was the most important objective of the night, and not even the warm and festive Ibrox Park atmosphere could convince him otherwise.

Gazzetta dello Sport tells us about Thursday night’s match highlights:

GLASGOW (Scotland), 24 April 2008 – With Rangers missing so many key men, a greedier side would have come away from Ibrox Park with a much better result. Fiorentina instead had to make do with a 0-0 draw that leaves the Scottish side the luxury of going through to the final not only with a victory, but also with a goal draw, exactly what Rangers manager Walter Smith had been hoping.

The initial exchanges of the match resembled more a game of chess, as both sides played a waiting game, hoping that the other would be the first to leave space at the back to exploit. Fiorentina were not the only ones showing a certain degree of caution, as Rangers manager Walter Smith had ordered his side to avoid conceding an away goal, and then try and bag one in the return fixture in Florence.

As a result, the first 10 minutes saw only a couple of decent breaks for Fiorentina, essentially helped by the mistakes committed by the Rangers side (backup players brought in to cover for the numerous Scottish absentees). In minute 12, Adrian Mutu had Fiorentina’s first shot on goal, but it was an easy take for Rangers’ nº1 Neil Alexander. Moments later, the Scottish goalkeeper had to be on his toes once again, racing off his line to stop Gianpaolo Pazzini (who had just marginally eluded the offside trap).

The Gers then had a chance of their own at the 15 minute mark, when Jean-Claude Darcheville made an individual run from left midfield that took him just a couple of metres away from Frey’s goal. With no one from Fiorentina able to stop the French forward, Darcheville got in a good position to finish but his subsequent shot was weak and easily collected by the Viola keeper. 3 minutes later, Zdravko Kuzmanovic unintentionally provided an assist for Steven Whittaker, but luckily for Fiorentina the Scotsman’s shot was off target. Martin Jorgensen‘s effort on 24 minutes was however much more accurate, with the player doing well to home in on goal from the right, but his shot was far too central and proved no problem for Alexander.

As the half went on, the game started to pick up pace a little, and there were some tactical changes by both sides. The Viola doubled up on Darcheville (a danger every time he got the ball close to the box) and Smith moved Nacho Novo to the middle to impede Fabio Liverani, who was dictating the tempo for Fiorentina. Fiorentina looked nevertheless in control of the game, with the Viola carving chances from shots from distance, dangerous crosses in the area (by Jorgensen, Kuzmanovic and Montolivo) and also from close exchanges between Pazzini, Mutu and Santana. The latter in particular, enjoyed the best of these chances when a great ball by Mutu set him one on one with Alexander, but the Rangers keeper produced a good save to deny the Argentine.

From then onwards the pace of the game slowed once again and Fiorentina were able to go into the break with a comfortable 0-0, with La Viola most probably thinking at this point that the game was very much there for the taking.

THE SECOND HALF – The game restarted with the visitors trying to maintain possession and Rangers attempting to find the right rhythm. It seemed as if they almost did, when two back-to-back chances by Nacho Novo set up the Spanish striker for the finish (first one-on-one, then from long-range) but without any luck. The Scottish side had yet another good chance and it took a timely intervention from Tomas Ujfalusi (last-minute presence in today’s match, recuperating from injury) to rescue Fiorentina. The Viola defence now looked to be under pressure, especially because the noise from the Ibrox crowd had noticeably increased.

Smith however was not satisfied with the draw, and sacrificed his two most dangerous players (Darcheville and Novo) to put on some fresh legs in the shape of Daniel Cousin and Thomas Buffel. The change did not produce the desired results however, with Rangers actually playing worse and making some careless errors: Fiorentina were once again led to believe that the game was there for the taking, if they just committed themselves a little more forward. However, Rangers captain David Weir was constantly there to deny Pazzini the finish, while Mutu and Santana became increasingly isolated as the game progressed.

Speakin of Mutu, the Romanian striker had the opportunity to test Alexander from long-range as La Viola obtained a free kick from 35 yards, but his effort was nowhere near the quality exhibited in the return leg vs. PSV. Eventually, Cesare Prandelli then tried using the Bobo Vieri card but it was already too late: La Viola ended the game with an away clean sheet, but with the distinct impression of having wasted a golden opportunity. For Rangers next Thursday, a draw with goals in Florence will be sufficient to qualify to the next round.


[Match Highlights]
 ACF Fiorentina
RANGERS (4-5-1): Alexander – Broadfoot, Weir, Carlos Cuellar, Papac – Whittaker, Hemdani, Davis, Dailly, Novo (59’ Buffel) – Darcheville (59’ Cousin). (bench: G.Smith, Boyd, Gow, Webster, Faye). Coach: W.Smith
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Jorgensen, Gamberini, Ujfalusi, Gobbi – Kuzmanovic, Liverani, Montolivo – Santana, Pazzini (80’ Vieri), Mutu. (bench: Lupatelli, Kroldrup, Dainelli, Pasqual, Potenza, Osvaldo). Coach: Prandelli