Thursday, 1 January 2009

Sporting Picks of 2008 Part 1, 14th May UEFA Cup Final: Zenit St Petersburg 2 Rangers 0

Zenit St Petersburg deservedly lifted the Uefa Cup with a two-goal victory over Rangers in Manchester.
The Russians dominated the first half without seriously threatening a packed Rangers defence. Rangers' Jean-Claude Darcheville forced a good save and a Barry Ferguson snap shot struck the outside of a post.
But Igor Denisov played a one-two with Andrei Arshavin before firing home and Konstatin Zyryanov side-footed in to secure Zenit's first European trophy.
It meant Rangers' dream of repeating their 1972 Cup-Winners' Cup success died at the hands of Zenit coach Dick Advocaat - the man dubbed the Little General during his time in charge at Ibrox.
And the Scottish side's hopes of winning four trophies by the end of the season had faltered at the second hurdle

Season 2007/08 was a strange and memorable season for Rangers. At one point in May, they were on course for an unprecedented 4 trophies in one season, unseen in Scottish football since Celtic’s all conquering 1966/67 side which peaked on a very famous night in Lisbon. In the end, despiter only ending up winning the domestic cup double, this still ended up as a historic season, all because they reached their (Rangers) 4th European final, their first since 1972.

That they didn’t land the Scottish Championship was down to a combination of factors. The tragic death of Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell understandably resulted in several matches to be called off as a mark of respect, Rangers own inability to eliminate teams at the first time of asking in the Scottish Cup and their run to the UEFA Cup final. These all contributed to a fixture pile up which exhausted Rangers, and still hinders Rangers this season, costing them vital points in the Championship run in.

In the UEFA Cup, Rangers run was as drama filled as their Old Firm rival’s own UEFA Cup run was 5 years ago. An away goal saw them past Panathanaikos, before an easier than expected win at home to one of the tournament favourites, Werder Bremen, saw them through despite having to hang on in Germany. The Quarter Final against Sporting Lisbon was settled with 2 top class finishes in the 2nd leg at the Jose Arvelade Stadium, while the Semi-final was a ‘nerve shredder’ against Fiorentina. This tie went all the way to penalties, which I saw in of all places an Irish bar in Praia da Rocha! And which Rangers won, despite Cousin’s sending off. To the universal surprise of everyone, Rangers final opponents were not Tournament Favourites Bayern Munich, but the Russians Zenit St Petersburg, managed by former Rangers manager Dick Advocaat.

The final itself was something of an anti-climax for Rangers. Prehaps it was the nerves, or the first signs of a very heavy season catching up with them (this was their 63rd match of the season, they would play 4 more in the next 10 days). Whatever it was, Rangers were beaten by a fresher side (Zenit’s season started in March) that only broke through by dint of a tired defensive lapse, the first in Europe that season, which provided the space for Arshavin’s perfect through ball to Denisov.

The loss proved to be a double edged sword for Rangers, they got much kudos for reaching a European final, but lost it with the actions of their supporters. The loss backfired dramatically on Rangers domestically too, drawing at Motherwell 3 days after the final before losing 2-0 at Pittodrie on the last day of the season (with a 3-0 win at Love Street sandwiched in between). Their Scottish Cup victory wasn’t as straightforward either, 2-0 up at half time, pegged back to 2-2 after 10 minutes of the second half from 2 set pieces, before Rangers pulled ahead with 20 minutes to go. Despite the minuses, the fact that Rangers reached a European final must be seen as a historic event.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review you have here. Great job. May I invite you to check out Top 10 review. Please do leave a comment as well.