Sporting Lisbon 0 Rangers 2 (Aggregate score: 0-2)
Jean-Claude Darcheville fired Rangers another step closer to the UEFA Cup final by setting the ball rolling in the win against Sporting Lisbon.
Substitute Steven Whittaker then added a second deep into injury time to provide the perfect end to a memorable clash.
The 2-0 aggregate win means Rangers will appear in the last four of the competition for the first time when they face Fiorentina, who defeated PSV Eindhoven.
Walter Smith’s men have now played a staggering 16 games in Europe this season, as they remain in the hunt for four trophies, in what has been the veteran boss’ best continental run since narrowly missing out on the Champions League final back in season 1992/93.
Rangers’ only other meeting with Sporting in Lisbon proved to be one of the strangest nights in the club’s history.
The two-legged affair ended 6-6 on aggregate but Rangers still managed to progress and eventually win the European Cup Winners’ Cup despite losing a penalty shoot-out because the recently introduced away goals rule had slipped the Dutch referee’s mind.
Thirty six years on, this night would have seemed no less dramatic for the 2,500 Rangers fans in the colourful Jose Alvalade Stadium who will now be wondering if the Portuguese capital will once again prove to be one of the stops on the way to European glory.
Christian Dailly partnered Carlos Cuellar in the heart of the Rangers defence in the absence of the almost ever-present David Weir, the veteran centre-half missing out through suspension after collecting a costly yellow card last week.
Darcheville was given the nod as the lone striker, with Daniel Cousin named among the substitutes after recovering from a broken jaw sustained in the last round against Werder Bremen.
Kirk Broadfoot, Brahim Hemdani and Steve Davis were also drafted into the side following Sunday’s draw at Dundee United.
Rangers had the first chance of the match when Gladstone and Tonel failed to deal with a Hemdani ball into the box, which broke for Darcheville.
The striker tried to dink over goalkeeper Rui Patricio, as he raced off his line, but Gladstone managed to block the effort.
Barry Ferguson then tried to set up Darcheville for another crack at goal but this time Patricio was first to the ball.
Sporting’s chances had been limited early on but they hit the woodwork when Leandro Romagnoli’s free-kick found Liedson and his header smacked off the post.
The home side were sparked into life by the near miss and threatened Rangers again within a few minutes.
This time Romagnoli played a corner out to Miguel Veloso 35 yards from goal and he drilled narrowly past Allan McGregor’s right-hand post.
With half-time beckoning, skipper Joao Moutinho saw his shot fizz across the goalmouth and wide of target with the opening 45 minutes destined to end goalless, like the first leg at Ibrox.
Kevin Thomson picked up the first booking of the game four minutes after the restart for a foul on Veloso, the yellow card ruling him out of Rangers’ next match in Europe.
Veloso recovered enough to provide a tempting cross for Marat Izmailov, who bulleted a header across McGregor’s goal and past the post as Sporting piled on the pressure.
Broadfoot then followed Thomson into referee Konrad Plautz’s book before Rangers grabbed the opener with an hour gone.
Darcheville played the ball out to Davis out on the right before racing into the box and collecting the return pass. He then left Patricio with no chance by slotting home from eight yards to send the Gers fans behind the goal into raptures.
With 20 minutes remaining Darcheville – yet to play a full 90 minutes for Rangers – was withdrawn to make way for Cousin, knowing he had already played a crucial role in this tie.
Liedson could have restored parity for Sporting but hooked his shot high and wide, before Leandro Grimi nodded past the upright.
Ferguson then picked up a booking, meaning he also misses out on the first leg of the semis through suspension.
But nothing would be allowed to dampen the spirits of the Ibrox club tonight as substitute Whittaker – on for Lee McCulloch – provided the icing on the cake by rifling home deep into injury time following a solo run from his own half.