Rangers vs. Fiorentina report

This might be a slightly unusual point of view, but for a neutral, I actually quite enjoyed that. Fiorentina, Celtic, and the Jorge Valdano brigade may be busy shaking their heads and complaining of “anti-football,” but I , while not necessarily on the edge of my seat, was thoroughly entranced , by the spectacle of two teams playing really, really, well.

I admit to being susceptible to the charms of attacking football, but there is a contingent of football supporter and observer to whom a team’s worth is directly proportional to their time of possession, pass completion rate, or shots on goal. Furthermore, they draw a direct correlation between a team’s “attractiveness” and their football morality, with Brazil ’70 becoming Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II and Sir Thomas More all rolled into one, and Wimbledon or pre-Wenger Arsenal slotting in somewhere between Stalin and Pol Pot.

I happen to believe that defensive soccer, when played well and with purpose, need not be negative, ugly or immoral, but does in fact have it’s own style and grace.

The key word here is purpose. One thing you didn’t see yesterday is Rangers defenders booting every ball they could reach as far up the pitch as possible. They played the long ball occasionally, sure, but more often upon recovering the ball, Rangers would play the ball, on the ground, in their own half for as long as possible before returning to their defensive duties. Their calm confidence was telling — for all their possession, Fiorentina had very few clear cut chances.

The defensive co-ordination between Rangers’ back line and midfield was superb. Rangers forced Fiorentina down the wings, giving them nothing up the middle, and one of the most common sights of the game was Fiorentina’s Jorgensen putting in a cross from the right only to have Weir and Cuellar coolly head the ball right back out again. Not very difficult for a team so intent on defending, you might (and probably already did) say, but it worked. How often do you see a team execute a game plan so effectively?

What fascinated me most about Rangers’ play was the discipline it took to achieve. At one point in the first half, Rangers’ lost a throw-in deep in Fiorentina’s half because nobody would come up to receive it. Broadfoot took the ball, looked around for an outlet for a good 45 seconds, the referee blew the whistle, and Fiorentina took over the ball. Rangers’ simply weren’t interested in what would be their best attacking opportunity of the half. They literally spurned the chance.

Most teams playing the 4-5-1 away in Europe look to pinch a goal on the counter attack, and most traditional long-ball teams hit it long to get corners and throw-ins deep in the opposition half. That wasn’t Rangers’ game. They came to defend and defend they did. And no matter what, that takes courage.

Fiorentina’s manager, for all his complaints about Rangers’ play deserves a hefty share of the blame for replacing the frustrated but dangerous Pazzini with the truly abysmal Christian Vieri. But it wasn’t Fiorentina’s failings that are responsible for the result. Rangers may have been less talented, but they deserved to win based on their near flawless execution.

Down with the “beautiful game” hegemony, up with “anti-football!” And good luck to Rangers in Manchester, because Zenit looked pretty damn good. May the best (not the most beautiful) team win.


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