Rangers 0 Sporting Lisbon 0
Rangers dreams of European glory this season took a knock when they drew a blank against Sporting Lisbon in their UEFA Cup quarter-final first-leg clash at Ibrox.
The Portuguese outfit proved to be as difficult to subdue as expected and the tie remains very much in the balance after both teams failed to find the back of the net in the first leg.
Rangers now face the daunting task of travelling to Lisbon next week hoping to seal a meeting with Fiorentina or PSV Eindhoven in the semi-finals, as they attempt to maintain an impressive bid for four trophies this season.
Gers fans seeking lucky omens would have been thrilled to see Rangers paired with Sporting in the quarter-final draw.
The only other meeting between the two clubs came en route to the Glasgow giants’ greatest achievement in Europe, lifting the European Cup Winners Cup in 1972.
Fans of statistics would also point out that Rangers had won all five previous encounters with Portuguese opposition at Ibrox ahead of tonight’s game.
Sasa Papac and Brahim Hemdani both started, meaning Steven Whittaker and Christian Dailly were dropped to the bench. Old Firm hero Kevin Thomson also made the starting line-up after recovering from the shin injury sustained against Celtic.
There was concern for Sporting in the opening minutes when David Weir accidentally stamped on Liedson’s Achilles and the Brazilian left the pitch on a stretcher – but the club’s star man was back in action within two minutes.
Rangers were forced to defend deep early on but a pacy and powerful run from Jean-Claude Darcheville caused all sorts of problems before he eventually ran into a wall of green and white jerseys.
The ball broke to Lee McCulloch who failed to cause Rui Patricio much concern in the Sporting goal with a 50-yard strike.
Liedson – the club’s top scorer in Europe this season with six goals – then had a go at the other end only to be denied by Papac who took no chances by hooking the ball to safety.
Barry Ferguson picked up the first booking of the game for an innocuous-looking challenge on fellow skipper Joao Moutinho. Like Liedson, he was also carried off only to make a quick recovery as howls of derision rang around the stadium.
Those jeers were replaced by cheers of encouragement when the man dubbed ’the Rocket’ exploded down the right flank towards the Sporting goal. Darcheville cut into the six-yard box but found himself with no support in the goalmouth and his flick from the tightest of angles was deflected over by Rui Patricio.
Simon Vukcevic was fortunate to escape a booking for simulation after throwing himself to the ground just outside the box but team-mate Marat Izmailov was cautioned moments later for a foul on Ferguson. He would later be joined in the referee’s book by team-mate Liedson.
Kirk Broadfoot then earned a free-kick for Rangers a few yards outside the area after being hacked down by Leandro Grimi. The set-piece was taken quickly by Ferguson, who slipped the ball through to Steven Davis – but his shot was blocked by Grimi.
With the half-time whistle beckoning, McCulloch had two good chances to hand Rangers the advantage, firstly forcing Patricio to dive low to his right to parry a 35-yard drive before seeing his header deflected inches past the post from a Davis ball into the box.
Davis screwed a shot wide from 25 yards at the start of the second half, before the visitors started to impose themselves on the game more.
Grimi collected from Liedson before being allowed to embark on a run of all of 70 yards before testing Allan McGregor in the Rangers goal. A miskicked effort then bobbled past the Rangers defence before shaving the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
Darcheville maintained his incredible record of never having completed a full match for Rangers when he was withdrawn after 71 minutes to make way for Nacho Novo.
Rangers pushed forward in search of a winner and Ferguson was not far away when he hooked over his shoulder and just wide, with Novo loitering just out of reach to knock home.
Leandro Romagnoli and Liedson came close in the dying minutes for Sporting - but the clash ended all square, leaving both teams with everything to play for in the second leg next Thursday.