European Nights: Rangers vs Parma (1999)

By Ross Kilvington
 March 14, 2020

The qualification rounds of the champion’s league always tend to throw up one or two interesting ties every season. Whether it is two former heavyweights who are slugging it back up to the top, or two exciting teams who are on everyone’s lips.

It was certainly no different in 1999, in which Rangers faced off against Parma in the 3rd qualifying stage for a place in the lucrative group stage. This was to be a tussle between two sides that had been well-known for their success throughout the decade and arguably it would be extremely unlucky for either team to miss out on testing themselves on the big stage.

European nights at Ibrox are unlike any other, with a fanatical home support creating noise and making the place a fortress for the away teams. Just think back to Leeds Utd in 1992 or Kiev in 1987, the fans are the 12th man and this can spurn on the players to do things no one ever expects. 

Parma arrived at Ibrox on the back of an excellent UEFA Cup victory in the previous season. They defeated Marseille 3-0 in the final. They had also ironically put Rangers out in the 3rd round that season, so Rangers were hungry for revenge.

This Parma team were something special though, although their history before the start of the 90’s was, if anything, underwhelming to say the least. They were founded in 1913, however years of mixed success and liquidation would follow up until 1989. Then their fortunes changed rather remarkably.

Firstly, Nevio Scala was appointed head coach in 1989 and subsequently led them to promotion to Serie A in 1990. Secondly, major investment came from the parent company Parmalat which really improved both the team’s fortunes and fiancés also. Both of these proved a turning point for the team, and the rest of the decade was filled with success. The decade was filled with success, especially in Europe as 2 UEFA Cups and a Cup Winners Cup were won by the team. Add in a couple of Coppa Italics and a domestic super cup then you can see why they were one of the most frightening teams in Europe at the time.

As we all well know, the decade was trophy laden for us bears. Some too young to remember, some old enough to drink to every title and cup won. The season before was to be a change in the old guard, with Smith leaving and a number of senior players moving on to pastures new, Dick Advocat was the new many in charge. Advocat took Scottish football by storm, albeit with a few slight stumbles along the way. An opening day defeat to Hearts and going down 3 goals to Shelbourne in the UEFA Cup (eventually winning 5-3) didn’t do much to allure him to the fans, but that was quickly repaid.

The league and Scottish cups were won, but the biggest moment of the season was the last Old Firm match at Parkhead, if we won, the title would be won at the home of our biggest rivals. I can still remember listening to it on the radio as an 8 year old, filled with joy at hearing Neil McCann scoring twice and us doing the huddle to celebrate!. The treble was secured in Dick Advocats first season in charge, surely Europe was next to be conquered?

Back to August 1999, as both teams walked out into the Glasgow night, there was a sense of electricity in the air, was this our time to step up on the big stage? The next 90 minutes would certainly suggest so. The line ups were particularly solid, with both teams fielding arguably their strongest teams. This was to be the toughest test Rangers had faced at Ibrox in a while, and revenge was to be had from last season’s defeat to the same opponents. Game on!

Rangers controlled the game from the start, the whole complexion of the tie changed very swiftly on the 26th minute however, Cannavaro was sent off after receiving his second yellow card after charging into Rod Wallace on the edge of the area. Parma had lost their centre half and this allowed Rangers to capitalise. It wouldn’t take long, only 6 minutes later, McCann played the ball into Vidmar (why he was this far up the field I still can’t work out!) who cut inside and hit the perfect shot past Buffon, 1 nil Rangers. Parma werestunned, now they could only hope was to contain us and reduce the deficit to as little as possible, especially with ten men.

As the second half started, Rangers felt another goal or two would certainly go a long way to putting the tie to bed. Parma didn’t go away though, Paolo Vanoli (remember him?) came close to equalising in the 61st minute, but Klos parried the shot away, he was soon booked for a terrible challenge on Ferguson. Then the killer blow, Reyna, who was to be one of our best signings that season, scored the 2nd goal. He made the perfect run to control McCanns knockdown and fired the ball past Buffon to make it 2 nil. Game over surely? 49,000 in Ibrox believed. 14 long minutes later this was confirmed. Finally, a great European performance at Ibrox against an absolutely star studded side, which in truth might have went close to winning the competition that season.

The second leg was nerve-wracking, Parma won the game 1 nil, but the job was done. Rangers were back in the champions’ league group stage for the first time in 3 seasons.

The rest of the season was a success for the club; both the title and Scottish cup were won rather convincingly. However, Europe was not quite as successful as it could have been. Drawn in a group with heavyweights Bayern, Valencia and PSV Eindhoven, we finished 3rd to drop into the UEFA Cup. Defeating PSV home and away and getting a draw against Bayern were great results, however we were just pipped to 2nd by Valencia (who finished runners up in the final). Our European adventure ended in the next round of the UEFA Cup, drawing 2-2 on aggregate, we lost to another German heavyweight in Borussia Dortmund on penalties.

Our European adventure was over for another season, but it provided Ibrox with one of the greatest European nights and one that the 49000 fans packed inside the stadium would ever forget!

Written by Ross Kilvington


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