Rangers kept their European dreams alive after another Ibrox shut-out put them within sight of the UEFA Cup final. They managed to complete the ninety minutes with a score line of 0-0 with Fiorentina. The Italian club became the seventh club in European competition to fail to find the back of the net at Ibrox this season as the first leg of the semi-final ended goalless in Glasgow. Rangers can welcome back Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson from suspension for the return leg in Florence next week and Walter Smith's men will be hopeful of progressing to a meeting with Bayern Munich or Zenit St Petersburg in next month's final in Manchester. As expected, Rangers began with a cautious 4-5-1 formation, with the role of lone striker taken on by Jean-Claude Darcheville, with fellow frontmen Daniel Cousin and Kris Boyd left on the bench. Christian Dailly started in a depleted midfield, after reports indicating he had beaten illness to make himself available, while goalkeeper Neil Alexander made his European debut. Fiorentina were without the suspended Marco Donadel - the scorer of the only goal in the Serie A win over Palermo at the weekend - but were boosted by key defender Tomas Ujfalusi's recovery from injury.
Alexander's first task was to deal with a ferocious shot from the left boot of Adrian Mutu, the Romanian who has blossomed since his return to Italy. Carlos Cuellar was also alert to clear the danger with Giampaolo Pazzini loitering with intent in front of goal. Then came a moment which had the Ibrox crowd rising from their seats. A dummy on the halfway line allowed Darcheville to set off on a bustling run down the left flank. He perhaps should have had a shot at goal himself before being closed down by Alessandro Gamberini. Instead, with Steven Davis bearing down on goal, the Frenchman attempted the pass but goalkeeper Sebastien Frey was able to collect instead, thanks to a couple of deflections. Steven Whittaker then tried his luck from the edge of the box but the effort dipped harmlessly off target. With 21 minutes on the clock, Greek referee Kyros Vassaras issued the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Darcheville. La Viola pressed in search of an away goal and Mutu was penalised for handball, a let-off for a Rangers side facing immense pressure at that point. The former Chelsea man then slipped a neat pass through to Santana, which was hooked to safety by Cuellar, with a furious Alexander claiming he had the move covered.
Rangers emerged after the break in a more positive frame of mind and a long pass clipped forward by Kirk Broadfoot released Nacho Novo through on goal. The striker found himself one on one with Frey but it was the goalkeeper who won the battle, smothering before Novo could unleash a shot. Novo then whipped a teasing ball across the face of goal to Davis, whose glancing header was narrowly off-target, before the little striker squandered another chance of his own by screwing the ball wide of Frey's left-hand post. That proved to be Novo's final contribution for the night and he was substituted just before the hour mark along with Darcheville, with Thomas Buffel and Cousin both thrown into the action. Mutu had scored a superb free-kick against PSV Eindhoven in the last round but was denied the same outcome with a long-range effort at Ibrox, Alexander proving to be resolute in the Rangers goal. With the clock running down, Gamberini went in the book for a foul on Cousin. Sasa Papac's free-kick into the box eventually found its way to Dailly at the far post via Cuellar but he nodded across the goalmouth and agonisingly wide. Fiorentina threw everything at Rangers in the final moments but were denied the away goal they craved, with the tie remaining on a knife-edge ahead of a winner-takes-all clash at the Artemio Franchi Stadium.
Rangers: Alexander, Broadfoot, Weir, Cuellar, Papac, Novo (Buffel 59), Whittaker, Hemdani, Dailly, Davis, Darcheville (Cousin 59).
Subs Not Used: Graeme Smith, Boyd, Gow, Webster, Faye
Fiorentina: Frey, Jorgensen, Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Gobbi, Kuzmanovic, Santana, Liverani, Mutu, Montolivo, Pazzini (Vieri 81)
Subs Not Used: Avramov, Kroldrup, Dainelli, Potenza, Osvaldo, Pasqual
Booked: Santana, Gamberini, Gobbi.
Ref: Kyros Vassaras (Greece).
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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