How Rangers beat Celtic in last Old Firm Scottish Cup final

Celtic were eyeing a league and cup double - Rangers were seeking a second cup final win of the season. Sound familiar?

But, considering their dominance of Scottish football, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that Saturday 4 May, 2002 was the last time the two Glasgow giants met in a Scottish Cup final.

And it is Rangers fans who will be hoping history repeats.

That day at Hampden Park, the Ibrox side came from behind twice against the league champions before Peter Lovenkrands netted a dramatic last-minute winner.

Old Firm legends Arthur Numan and Johan Mjallby, who both played that day, help us recall one of the most thrilling Old Firm finals.

Rangers 'issues' vs Celtic's 'strong characters'

Like this season, Rangers headed into the 2002 Scottish Cup final under a different manager from the one who began the season.

While Michael Beale exited last October after less than 11 months in charge, it was Dick Advocaat who stepped aside in December 2001 after his team fell behind their city rivals in the title race on the back of two Old Firm derby defeats.

The former Netherlands head coach had already led Rangers to two league titles, but they had been usurped by Martin O'Neill's Celtic by the time the Dutchman moved upstairs to make way for Alex McLeish's arrival from Hibernian.

Former Rangers and Netherlands full-back Numan recalls: "Alex tried to get some spirit back in the dressing room because there were some issues."

As with current Rangers boss Philippe Clement, performances and results improved - but not enough to prevent Celtic retaining the league title.

Like Clement, McLeish headed into the Scottish Cup final with the League Cup already in the trophy room.

Unlike the Belgian, the former Scotland centre-half had also already managed Rangers to a confidence-boosting win over Celtic.

On their way to sweeping Ayr United aside 4-0 in the final, they had edged O'Neill's side 2-1 in the semis before two successive 1-1 draws in the league.

Former Celtic centre-half Johan Mjallby remembers that his side were nevertheless "coming into the game as favourites" - just as they will on Saturday at Hampden.

"It was tough to play Rangers at that time - they had a really good side," he said.

"We were quite confident, we had a great manager in Martin O'Neill and he built the team not only with good players but big characters and strong physically."

Old Firm could 'compete with anyone'

Numan suggests: "The quality on the park was unbelievable for both teams."

Mjallby's Sweden team-mate, Henrik Larsson, was joined up front for Celtic by Chris Sutton and Wales' John Hartson, with future Celtic manager Neil Lennon joined by Stiliyan Petrov and captain Paul Lambert, a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, in midfield.

Rangers had Germany's Stefan Klos in goal, Scotland stalwart Barry Ferguson in midfield along with Numan's fellow Dutch legend, Ronald de Boer, with Neil McCann on the opposite wing to Denmark's Lovenkrands and Argentine legend Claudio Caniggia through the middle.

"Rangers and Celtic could compete with any team in Europe," Numan recalled. "Speaking to players around Europe since then, I have been told that a lot of top teams were afraid to play us, especially at home."

Having beaten Ajax to qualify for the Champions League, Celtic would drop into the Uefa Cup third round after finishing narrowly behind Juventus and Porto, but ahead of Rosenborg, before losing to Valencia on penalties.

Rangers lost their Champions League qualifier to Fenerbahce but went one round further than Celtic in the Uefa Cup - their first time playing in Europe beyond Christmas in nine years - after beating Anzhi Makhachkala, Dynamo Moscow and Paris Saint-Germain before losing by a single goal to eventual winners Feyenoord.

The stage was therefore set for an epic battle in front of 50,000 fans at Hampden.

Rangers joy left Celtic 'distraught'

Both managers gambled on the fitness of key players for the final - O'Neill starting Lambert, Sutton and Bobo Balde on their return from injury and McLeish staying loyal to De Boer despite the Dutchman's problems with a broken toe.

However, Caniggia was forced off after only 16 minutes and Hartson headed Celtic ahead before the Argentine could be replaced.

Rangers took only another two minutes to equalise as Lovenkrands, who had also scored in the League Cup final win over Celtic, fired past goalkeeper Rab Douglas.

It was Celtic's turn to lose a key player, with Lambert limping off shortly before the break, but Balde restored the lead five minutes after half time from short range.

Balde was, though, to concede the free-kick from which Ferguson, earlier denied by a post, curled in Rangers' second equaliser after 69 minutes.

Tradition has it that the team scoring first in an Old Firm derby rarely loses.

However, Mjallby had already cleared a Fernando Ricksen effort off the line before Lovenkrands met McCann's cross to prevent the final going to extra time as Celtic were denied a league and cup double.

"I remember the cross and the header like it was yesterday," Numan said. "It always brings back the good memories."

Since then, there have been five Old Firm finals - but all in the League Cup.

Rangers won 2-1 the following season, while Celtic have won three of the latest four, including by the same scoreline in February 2023.

However, the pain of that 2002 day remains for Mjallby, as it will for whoever loses on Saturday.

"Playing for Celtic means and meant you are supposed to win trophies," he added. "Every time you lose, you are distraught.

"It is a crushing feeling if you don't win and the best feeling in the world if you win."

The 22 players who start at Hampden Park on Saturday have the chance to etch their name in history, just as Lovenkrands did in May 2002.