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Old Firm final gets pulses racing

Published: Friday 3 May 2002, 6.25CET
Rangers FC and Celtic FC go head-to-head in the Scottish Cup Final on Saturday.

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Published: Friday 3 May 2002, 6.25CET

Old Firm final gets pulses racing

Rangers FC and Celtic FC go head-to-head in the Scottish Cup Final on Saturday.

Rangers FC and Celtic FC go head-to-head at Hampden Park on Saturday in the Scottish Cup Final determined to satisfy their supporters' desire for silverware - and put a smile back on the face of Scottish football.

Bragging rights
Rangers already have the League Cup in the impressive trophy room at Ibrox while across the River Clyde, Celtic have the Scottish Premier League trophy in the boardroom for the second season in succession. Now the question is who will lift the final domestic trophy of a troubled season and earn the bragging rights for the city of Glasgow over the summer?

Football festival
This week Airdrieonians FC went out of business after 124 years due to a cash crisis. Motherwell FC could be next and the non-Old Firm SPL clubs are still threatening to split from the big two in a row over TV rights. If ever a nation needed a football festival to lift its spirits then now is that time.

Champions League coming to town
The Scottish Cup Final marks the first of two classic games at Hampden Park in the next 12 days. On 15 May, Bayer 04 Leverkusen come up against Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League Final - in hour of the continent's premier club competition coming to town the "old Lady" of Scottish football has been given a facelift in the shape of a new £100,000 playing surface. Now the wishes of the football public in Scotland and the managers of Rangers and Celtic is that the cup final is a match fit to grace such a pristine pitch.

Impressive pedigree
Rangers manager Alex McLeish ceratinly has an impressive pedigree in the competition. He lifted the Cup four times as a player with Aberdeen. Ironically enough, two of those triumphs were against the side he now manages. Last season he took Hibernian FC to the final only to lose 3-0 to Martin O'Neill's Celtic.

McLeish comments
He is looking for a different outcome this time around and a game to remember. "We played Celtic in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden and when you get an open, attractive game like that one it's a fantastic spectacle," McLeish said. "When the game is as exciting as that then pundits on TV think the defences have to look at themselves. If the game is a stalemate then you are criticised for not making it more exciting. But we want a game that is a credit to everyone and I'm hopeful that's how it will turn out."

Rangers ship steadied
O'Neill's record in Old Firm encounters prior to the arrival of McLeish as successor to Dick Advocaat last December was exceptional. Celtic won five games in a row before McLeish took charge at Ibrox and steadied the ship and the  last three encounters between the sides have ended with a Rangers win and two draws.

"As important as it gets"
It provides an intriguing backdrop to only the fourth Old Firm final since 1980. O'Neill said: "This weekend I think there is an onus on both sides to produce an attractive game of football for people looking from outside the SPL. Hopefully, the two sides will show a desire to display the SPL is of a decent quality. But it's a cup final, it's very important and it's against Rangers. Put all these factors together and it's just about as important as it gets."

Around 53,000 fans expected
Around 53,000 fans will cram into Hampden for a match that rarely disappoints. On 21 April the sides fought out a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park - but the game exploded into life with three players sent off in the final minute for a penalty box brawl. The players have been warned to be on  their best behaviour and FIFA World Cup-bound referee Hugh Dallas will stand for no nonsense.

Array of nationalities
However, if Mr Dallas is to be understood above the noise at Hampden, he may need to be fluent in several lanaguages. No fewer than 20 different nationalities could be represented on the playing field in this match. From Guinea to Germany, Argentina to Ukraine, Georgia to Slovakia the showpiece event of the Scottish season has a very definite international flavour.

No quarter given
With Celtic bidding to win their 32nd Scottish Cup and Rangers their 30th, one thing is certain - no quarter will be asked for or given once the 117th Scottish Cup Final gets under way.

Last updated: 04/05/02 18.29CET

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