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Positive Prandelli eyes final push

ACF Fiorentina and Rangers FC have enjoyed fine seasons but as they meet for a place in the UEFA Cup final each knows that their campaign may yet unravel.

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli is focused firmly on getting to the final
Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli is focused firmly on getting to the final ©Getty Images

ACF Fiorentina and Rangers FC have both enjoyed impressive seasons but as the sides prepare to meet in Tuscany for a place in the UEFA Cup final, each knows their campaign could yet unravel.

First-leg stalemate
The teams played out a relatively stifled first leg at Ibrox last week, a goalless draw the predictable outcome of a match that offered little in the way of attacking impetus. Yet Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli and Rangers counterpart Walter Smith are united in their belief that the second instalment will be a very different affair. "The pitch at home was not as you'd want," said Smith, referring to the uneven surface that had inhibited flowing football. "Here it will certainly be a lot easier to be a bit adventurous."

'Magical night'
With journalists from 30 countries expected at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, that expectation seems to have spread beyond the two clubs, yet neither side goes into the meeting in the best of form. A run of three defeats in seven league outings and a 2-2 draw at home to UC Sampdoria on Sunday has allowed AC Milan to move within two points of the Viola and a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot, though Prandelli is undaunted. "League pressures won't affect our game," said the man who guided Parma FC to the last four of the UEFA Cup three years ago, only to lose 3-0 to eventual winners PFC CSKA Moskva. "I am just looking to this semi-final: it could be a magical night for us."

Weir hope
April was also a month to forget for Rangers. A return of one point from three outings saw their advantage at the Scottish Premier League summit become a five-point deficit (though they do have three games in hand), but domestic titles come and go – European honours are harder to come by. "We've looked forward to this," said Smith, who is hopeful that David Weir will recover from a groin strain to take his place in the starting lineup, though Steven Davis is doubtful with a similar problem. "No matter what stage of your career you are at, you relish the opportunity to play in a European final."

Duo return
To this end he will welcome back Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson from suspension, the chief architects of Rangers' last-eight victory over Sporting Clube de Portugal in Lisbon following another goalless first leg. Prandelli himself sees parallels between this tie and the last round when his side went through against PSV Eindhoven, albeit with an away win, and believes home advantage can only be a boon. "The supporters will be important," said the coach, who is likely to start with forward Mario Alberto Santana. "English and Scottish fans often get credit for being so good and I'm sure ours can be similar."

United front
Rangers' away following will no doubt make themselves heard too, and if they can urge their team over the last hurdle, Smith will have a happy phone call to make. "[Sir] Alex [Ferguson] phoned me this morning but I haven't had chance to return his call," he revealed. If Rangers are due a trip to Manchester on 14 May, perhaps he will be happier to get in touch with his old friend.