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Rangers kick Fiorentina from UEFA Cup

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spanish forward Nacho Novo sent the Rangers to the UEFA Cup final.THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

FLORENCE, Italy -- Rangers beat Fiorentina 4-2 in a penalty shootout Thursday to advance to the UEFA Cup final.

Following 210 minutes of scoreless play over two legs, Spanish forward Nacho Novo scored the decisive penalty after Fabio Liverani and Christian Vieri failed to convert for Fiorentina.

In the final, Rangers will face Zenit St. Petersburg, which routed Bayern Munich 4-0 earlier to advance 5-1 on aggregate. The championship match is on May 14 at the City of Manchester Stadium in England -- south of the Scotland border.

Rangers have lifted a single European trophy in its history, capturing the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972.

Rangers parachuted into the UEFA Cup after a third-place finish in its Champions League group.

Until the shootout, the match was a virtual replica of the dull scoreless draw in the first leg. Fiorentina controlled throughout, while Rangers sat back, apparently content to let the match be decided on penalties.

Rangers was reduced to 10 men in the 109th minute when second-half substitute Daniel Cousin picked up his second yellow card putting his forehead against Liverani, who reacted as if he had been head-butted.

At one point in the second half, Rangers kicked the ball out of bounds as if the team wasn't interested in scoring.

Rangers' first shot on goal didn't come until the 77th minute, when Steven Davis' close-range effort was stopped by Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastien Frey.

Otherwise, Rangers parried shot after shot from the Viola, giving the capacity crowd of 39,130 at Artemio Franchi stadium little to cheer for.

Fiorentina fans hadn't witnessed a European semifinal since Ronaldo and FC Barcelona took advantage of a suspended Gabriel Batistuta in the Cup Winners' Cup 10 years ago.

Aiming for its first European final in 38 years, Rangers also had a big following, and some 8,000 Scottish supporters flew in from Glasgow. With the entire city in a festive atmosphere for May Day, the visiting fans laid their banners down in front of the Duomo cathedral and mingled with the locals without any problems reported.

There was room only for 2,400 visiting fans inside the stadium, so the others watched outside on a jumbo screen.

Fiorentina won its only major international trophy by beating Rangers home and away in the first Cup Winners' Cup in 1961. Players from that game sang Fiorentina's anthem before kickoff.

Fiorentina's first shot on target came in the 20th minute, when midfielder Riccardo Montolivo sent in a weak attempt from 25 yards out. Fiorentina top scorer Adrian Mutu put a bouncing shot on target two minutes later. Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander had little trouble stopping both attempts.

Viola centre forward Giampaolo Pazzini received medical attention after a header in the 41st and Fiorentina made its first change a minute later, with Zdravko Kuzmanovic coming on for the injured Marco Donadel in midfield.

Besides one corner kick in the 11th, Rangers never really threatened in the first half.

When Rangers opened the second half by passing the ball back and forth in its own end, Fiorentina fans began whistling, then cheered ironically when the Scottish side briefly advanced past midfield.

Appearing desperate, Mutu attempted a tough shot that went high in the 49th. Three minutes later, Mutu's cross set up one of Fiorentina's best chances but Pazzini's shot went just wide of the near post.

Defender Tomas Ujfalusi's hard shot from the edge of the area skimmed over Rangers' crossbar in the 62nd.

Rangers made its first substitution in the 65th, replacing Jean-Claude Darcheville with Cousin at forward.

Alexander had trouble gathering a powerful 35-yard free kick from Mutu in the 70th, but no Fiorentina player could get there in time to slot the ball in.

Former Italy forward Vieri replaced Pazzini at the centre of Fiorentina's attack in the 79th and nearly scored as soon as he came on, failing to take advantage of a close-range opportunity.

Rangers brought on Novo for Davis in the 81st and the visitors produced their second scoring opportunity four minutes later, with Frey blocking a shot from Steven Whittaker.

Fiorentina kept up the pressure in extra time, with Vieri and Kuzmanovic missing opportunities in the 91st and 93rd.

The Viola made their final substitution in the 94th, with Franco Semioli replacing Mario Alberto Santana on the right flank. Ujfalusi then appeared to have a shoulder problem, but continued playing with no more substitutions available.

Rangers nearly scored off a corner in the 118th and Vieri hit the side of the net with Fiorentina's last chance in the 120th.

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