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On the brink of exiting the UEFA Europa League at the round of 32 stage, Rangers FC squeaked past Sporting Clube de Portugal and the omens suggest they could now be going all the way to the Dublin final.
Twice before – in the 1971/72 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the 2007/08 UEFA Cup – the Scottish titleholders have played Sporting in knockout competition. Twice before they have also triumphed, reaching the showpiece on each occasion. It was so nearly third time unlucky for Walter Smith's side, however, until Maurice Edu's 92nd-minute effort earned them a 2-2 draw in Lisbon and put them through on away goals.
"It was a good performance from the boys," said goalkeeper Allan McGregor. "We scored late and it was difficult for Sporting to take. I think we had the majority of possession and the boys defended well. The key was to keep walking away, never thinking about defeat until the final whistle. We stayed together until the end and we got the goal."
Next up, in the round of 16, are PSV Eindhoven, who the Scottish Premier League outfit beat twice in the 1999/2000 UEFA Champions League first group stage. "It will be a difficult game because they top their domestic league and are a good team," added McGregor. "I remember being a young boy when we faced them some years ago and it was a great atmosphere at Ibrox and over there. Hopefully it will be the same again."
On-loan El Hadji Diouf, who opened his Rangers account with their opener in Lisbon, was especially pleased his temporary employers got Sunday's 3-0 defeat by domestic rivals Celtic FC out of their system. "Of course I'm happy with my first goal but the best thing was to see the reaction of the team after the Celtic game," he said. "I hope I can score many more. I never expected to be eliminated, I always believed we could do it. I didn't see our second goal as I was in the dressing room."
Yannick Djaló, whose 83rd-minute header looked to have put Sporting through, was aggrieved by the manner of their exit. "We had it in our hands and we spurned our chance in the final minute," he explained. "It was hard to take." Team-mate Alberto Zapater added: "We played to win and we deserved to win. I still can't believe what happened, but football's not always fair."
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