Nacho Novo struck the decisive spot-kick as Rangers FC booked a place in the UEFA Cup final against FC Zenit St. Petersburg with a 4-2 shoot-out victory, despite being dominated by ACF Fiorentina for much of the preceding 120 minutes.
Decided on penalties
Rangers did not have a shot in anger until 13 minutes from the end of regulation time as the hosts piled forward but were somehow unable to find the breakthrough. After 180 scoreless minutes over two legs, extra time came and then penalties, and when Barry Ferguson had the first attempt saved it looked like the Scottish title-holders' lack of attacking ambition would haunt them. Yet Neil Alexander denied Fabio Liverani and Christian Vieri skied his effort, allowing Novo to seal an unlikely win.
If the first leg at Ibrox had been soporific, then the noise that greeted the teams at the start of this second encounter was enough to jolt anybody out of their slumber. Kurt Hamrin, a member of the side that beat Rangers in the 1960/61 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final, was among 37,000 singing the Fiorentina anthem. And how the Viola responded, driving forward from the off. Mario Alberto Santana in particular roamed menacingly, and it took timely interventions from Carlos Cuéllar to snuff out three early Fiorentina sorties.
It proved a sign of things to come but for all the Italian club's possession and slick passing, chances were at a premium. It was not until 19 minutes were on the clock and coach Cesare Prandelli had been drawn to the touchline that Riccardo Montolivo finally tested Alexander from distance. For all the fanfare surrounding the news that Rangers' defensive Argus, David Weir, had passed a fitness test, he and the rest of the visiting back four had little strenuous activity.
When Weir was called upon just after the half-hour mark, he stood firm to block Adrian Mutu's effort as the striker swivelled on the penalty spot after being picked out by a low free-kick. It was at least an opportunity; more than Rangers could muster in the opening period as Jean-Claude Darcheville kept a lonely vigil on the halfway line. He resumed that position for the second half, and Fiorentina quickly slipped back into their stride as Martin Jørgensen and then an unbalanced Mutu fired shots so high they almost cleared the ten-metre fencing behind the goal.
Seven minutes after the restart home hopes rose again as Mutu, now on the left wing, sent in a low cross that Giampaolo Pazzini guided just the wrong side of the near post. The youngster passed up another chance soon after, applying an air shot to Montolivo's excellent centre, yet Fiorentina were finding their rhythm and it looked ominous for Rangers. Tomáš Ujfaluši rifled over and Mutu tested Alexander with a free-kick. Then, with eleven minutes left, Vieri came on and could have scored with his first touch, but a metre out he could not get a shot away – Fiorentina were doing everything but score.
There were openings at the other end too, as Steven Davis and Steven Whittaker finally supplied some work for Sébastien Frey, yet the game inevitably lurched into extra time where the barrage was renewed. Vieri and Zdravko Kuzmanović went close early on. Mutu had an attempt blocked by Cuéllar and even the dismissal of substitute Daniel Cousin four minutes into the second period failed to tilt the balance noticeably – the ten men still having their moments through Novo. Penalties it was and perseverance paid off as Rangers won through to meet Zenit in Manchester on 14 May.