In a season that’s been packed with drama for both sides so far, the Scottish Cup semi-final draw has served up a Celtic v Rangers showdown that is certain to deliver at the national stadium.
Just two weeks after Celtic beat Rangers at Ibrox to open up a healthy lead in the race for the Premiership title, the sides meet again with the possibility of another piece of silverware lying in wait for the victor, and a serious blow to the loser.
Hearts lie in wait after beating Hibs in the first of the semi-finals on Saturday but whichever one of the Glasgow giants makes it through to the final will be travelling to Mount Florida on May 21 as favourites.
With both sides having designs on other silverware as well as the Scottish Cup, and with recent results that have their confidence high, the stage is set for a cup cracker on Easter Sunday and with a 50/50 split on tickets there should be a raucous atmosphere to match.
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou has admitted that he won’t even attempt to play down the occasion with his players, instead urging them to embrace the big game hype.
“My experience with these things, there is no point trying to disguise it as something it isn’t,” he says.
“You can go in there and say that it’s just another game and treat it just like another game but I think you lose the unique aspect of the fact that you want your players to embrace the big occasion and play in a big game. You don’t want your players to shy away from it.
“I don’t think I need to tell them that, they will realise themselves from the build-up and obviously when they walk out there.”
Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst had plenty of experience of major derbies as a player and said it’s a “big game that needs a big performance.
The Dutchman was disappointed with errors that led to defeat in the last derby and knows what needs to change for a better outcome.
“Of course you do not want to make so many mistakes in games,” he said. “In the game two weeks ago we started really well before conceding two.
“We have to defend better as a team and not concede goals. In the second half I think we were pushing hard for the equaliser and had a lot of chances.
“We just have to be more clinical in those moments and put in an overall good display over 90 minutes or longer if needed.
“It is a big game and that requires a big performance. Tough games are always close and we have to make sure we will be winning this time.”
The Ibrox side have the confidence boost that comes from reaching the last four of the Europa League and are hoping to deliver another knockout blow on Sunday. Celtic have had a full week to prepare and stuck seven goals past St Johnstone in their last game.
The Parkhead side will be without Giogos Giakoumakis, who has a minor hamstring injury but will have David Turnbull available after a knock, while James Forrest is also fit to be called on. Postecoglou has said that Kyogo Furuhashi can play a part but may not be fit enough for 90 minutes, or 120 if there’s extra time, but he has plenty of attacking options to choose from.
Rangers have Filip Helander, Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi out for the remainder of the season but will also have to assess the fitness of players after the energy-sapping extra-time win over Braga on Thursday, though Van Bronckhorst says there are no fresh injuries and he has no concerns over his team.
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