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Jean-Claude Darcheville and Steven Whittaker scored second-half goals as Rangers FC defeated Sporting Clube de Portugal 2-0, both on the night at the José Alvalade and on aggregate, to advance to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup for the first time.
If last week's goalless first leg at Ibrox had been a tense affair, Sporting were left with no choice but to pour forward once Rangers striker Darcheville swept in a Steven Davis cross on the hour, leaving gaps which substitute Whittaker exploited in added time. Even bookings for Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson, which rule them out of the semi-final first leg against ACF Fiorentina, could not dampen the mood and Rangers will need little reminding that they beat Sporting en route to lifting their only European trophy, the 1971/72 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
The absence of Anderson Polga with a thigh injury left João Moutinho as the only survivor from the Sporting team that thrashed Newcastle United FC 4-1 in their last home quarter-final three years ago. The centre-back's replacement, Gladstone, was soon involved, recovering smartly after his initial hesitation to dive in and divert a Darcheville effort away for a corner after a period of Rangers' passing had ended with Brahim Hemdani freeing his fellow Frenchman on the edge of the area.
Rangers also made one change from last week's draw in Scotland. Christian Dailly came in for the suspended David Weir, and the 34-year-old would have been relieved to see a Liedson header crash to safety off the post after the Sporting striker beat him to a clipped Leandro Romagnoli free-kick in the 18th minute. Save for a speculative Miguel Veloso drive, neither side was able to work an opening of note before the game reignited just before the interval.
A scheming presence throughout, Moutinho finally found space on the left-hand corner of the Rangers box, looked up and fizzed a shot off the slick surface which beat the dive of Allan McGregor but not the post. A Simon Vukčević attempt from the same spot produced an identical result, though not before Tonel had timed a block to perfection to deny Lee McCulloch after the midfielder pounced on a defensive header in a central position just outside the area.
It was the third goalless half between these teams, yet there would not be a fourth as Darcheville applied the finishing touch to a Rangers' counter on the hour. More through desperation than judgement as the Portuguese hosts turned the screw, a clearance was thumped clear by Kirk Broadfoot into Sporting territory where Gladstone was caught off balance. What followed was pure brilliance, though, as Darcheville and Davis played a wonderful one-two which ended with the No19 sweeping the ball beyond Rui Patrício.
Sporting coach Paulo Bento responded by bringing on Yannick Djaló but the striker shot wildly wide and if Tonel's header was far more measured, that too drifted away along with Sporting's hopes of salvation. Rangers extended their advantage through Whittaker when he dispossessed Abel in midfield, charged unchallenged into the box and tucked the ball into the corner of the net.
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