From the heat of Seville to the pressure cooker of Hampden – how Rangers will react to their Europa League heartbreak is the question on everybody’s mind ahead of the Scottish Cup final.
In contrast to the 120 energy-sapping minutes in Spain, Hearts have enjoyed a low-key week of preparation, based at their training HQ on the outskirts of Edinburgh, as they seek their first trophy in exactly ten years.
In the aftermath of the 5-4 penalty kicks defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday night, Giovanni van Bronckhorst admitted his job was to lift the crushing disappointment hanging over a squad who gave so much – physically and mentally – to a European campaign that captured the imagination of millions.
The Rangers players arrived back in Glasgow on Thursday and have had only recovery sessions and analysis briefings to ready themselves for one last push for silverware.
It is said that cup finals hold magical powers to mend weary legs and niggling injuries – but just how much more the Dutch manager can wring out of his men will go a long way to deciding whether they can triumph.
On the other end of the M8, Robbie Neilson has had to fret over fitness concerns of his own. John Souttar, Craig Halkett, Cammy Devlin and Liam Boyce are among the key stars at his disposal with precious little match practice due to a litany of injuries befalling the Edinburgh side.
Neilson declares himself unconcerned by the exertions of their opponents, but few can doubt that the prevailing mood at Tynecastle would have been one of quiet satisfaction with how events unfolded in Seville.
This is Hearts’ third Scottish Cup final in four years, but the first that has followed a season of fine form for the men in maroon. One of the only things missing from their renaissance campaign was a victory over Rangers.
Availability depending, Neilson must decide which of his two systems to deploy – a 3-4-3 where the defenders have responsibility to start attacks, and the midfield pivot to smother attempts to break them down.
Hearts have also used a 4-2-3-1 for greater width, something that may be attractive to the management on the wide expanses of Hampden Park.
Barrie McKay has been a stand-out playing behind the strikers. The former Ger is key to creating chances.
Van Bronckhorst has brought adaptability to Rangers’ system, and implemented more control of possession. The midfield mix he selects may hint at whether he wants to wear Hearts down, or go for the jugular from the start.
The fitness of Kemar Roofe would give them an out-and-out striker, but the team has found ways of breaking teams down with a false nine too. Scott Wright and Joe Aribo enter this final in fine form.
In some countries there is a perception that the national cup has lost its shine, and the final is no longer the showpiece event of the season. It’s hard to argue that is the case in Scotland.
In front of a capacity crowd, the curtain will come down on a year when the fans finally got their game back.
The absence of spectators through the pandemic made Scottish football a shadow of itself, but, restored and more passionate and boisterous than ever, we can be assured of a colourful finale to put the full stop on a memorable campaign.