Glasgow (AFP) – Rangers and Celtic will battle it out for a place in the Scottish Cup final on Sunday as one of world football’s most intense and bitter rivalries resumes at Hampden.
It is just the second time in four years that the Glasgow giants, who have dominated Scottish football with 100 top flight title wins between them, have clashed since Rangers were forced to start life again in the country’s bottom tier following an amazing fall from grace that resulted in liquidation in June 2012.
The match at Hampden is the first meeting of the Old Firm since January 2015 when Celtic cruised to a 2-0 victory in the semi-final of the League Cup at the same venue.
However, Rangers’ fortunes have improved dramatically since then and this encounter is expected to be more evenly contested.
New manager Mark Warburton has restored some pride to the Ibrox club, leading them to the Championship title along with a Scottish Challenge Cup win against Peterhead last weekend.
The picture off the field looks more promising as well, with the financial and boardroom instability that plagued the club over the past four years seemingly brought to an end since a consortium headed by South African businessman Dave King took control of the club in March 2015.
The Gers’ promotion back to the top flight after a four-year absence will see the resumption of regular Old Firm derby matches in the Scottish Premiership from next season and many see the semi-final clash as a gauge of how far Rangers have come.
However, Gers captain Lee Wallace, who has been with the club throughout their rise through the Scottish divisions, doesn’t believe the match will give any real indication of the gap between the sides.
“The only time we can probably see a true gap is come the end of next season when we have played each other more often,” said Wallace, who is looking to guide Rangers to a first Scottish Cup win since 2009 and the return to European football it would bring.
“Irrespective of what happens this weekend, it’s too difficult to call a potential gap but what I will say is that we are a team that are very confident at the minute.
“We have belief in our style and what we can do as individuals and we know that if we get it right come match day, we have a really good chance.”
– Celtic firm favourites –
Rangers’ absence from the Premiership has allowed Celtic to dominate with the Parkhead club, who top the table by eight points, on course for their fifth league title in a row.
However, since they last met the Hoops have endured another disastrous European campaign while a defeat against Ross County in the League Cup ended their hopes of a first domestic treble since 2001.
Despite this, Celtic are firm favourites for the fixture. The Hoops are unbeaten in 11 matches but goalkeeper Craig Gordon doesn’t believe form matters in an Old Firm encounter.
“It’s all about who plays on the day,” Gordon, who is set to make his 100th appearance for Celtic, said.
“We’ve been to Hampden and played in a semi-final and not got the result we wanted over the last couple of years so we know we have to go there and perform if we’re to get the right result.
“I enjoy the pressure that it brings and the derby aspect is something that, no matter what club you’re playing for, is the biggest game so I look forward to it and hopefully we can get another win.”
Saturday’s other semi-final will see Dundee United, on the brink of relegation from the Scottish top flight, take on Championship side Hibernian at the national stadium.
Hibernian v Dundee United (1215 GMT)
Rangers v Celtic (1200 GMT)