No one is going to claim that Rangers played pretty flowing football in their UEFA Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg against Fiorentina. The Italians had all the flair and passing and fleetness of foot you could want. They created many a chance. Trouble is, they didn’t stick any of them in the net. Now that’s not to say their strikers were inept athough a couple of the missed chances were pretty simple. What really happened was that Walter Smith and Ally McCoist manufactured a tactical masterpiece and their players followed the plan faithfully for every minute of the 120.
The defensive organisation should be studied for years to come. The sheer will not to conceed needs to be understood by psychologists and lectured to other football teams. And the raw energy, belief, heart, grit, determination and all the other words that mean ‘precious little flair but plenty of basic football skill allied to desire’ was uplifting, frankly.
I hadn’t meant to watch this match but it became, as these games do, utterly compelling. And as the minutes ticked by, my desire not to see Rangers concede grew in concert. I love seeing sportspeople put themselves on the line. Really give absolutely everything in pursuit of their goal. I love it when genius is involved and I love it when strength of character is involved. And the bald fact was that Rangers did not want to concede more than Fiorentina wanted to score.
Thence to penalties and the lottery that this is. It was the level playing field Smith had been after. And despite Ferguson’s early miss, there was always the knowledge that somehow, Rangers would prevail. And so they did. The Rangers keeper, Alexander (an ex-Ipswich man, by the way whom our Manager, Jim Magilton let go with his blessing to play on a bigger stage though under no pressure to sell) pulled off the one vital save and put enough pressure on Vieri for the once great man to miss over the bar. Nacho Novo finished the job with a coolly taken winning kick.
There may not have been guile and beauty in Rangers’ victory but there were the mechanics of an astute plan deployed to perfection. And actually, who’s to say that there is no beauty in that?
Well done, Rangers. Well done indeed.