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FALKIRK star Andy Lawrie today claimed a Scottish Cup final at Hampden, followed by the World Cup in Germany, would be a fitting end for the career of former Hibs ace Russell Latapy.


But, in order to do so, Latapy would have to disappoint the Easter Road fans who once adored him by ensuring Hibs' never-ending search for that elusive piece of silverware continues. While admitting he considers Falkirk to be the underdogs going into Saturday's quarter-final clash, Lawrie believes midfield star Latapy could provide that touch of magic which decides the tie in the Bairns' favour.

Lawrie, now Falkirk's longest-serving player, first came across the Trinidad and Tobago internationalist when both Hibs and the Bairns were locked in a battle for the First Division title seven years ago.

Way back then, Latapy was a total unknown on these shores, an anonymity which quickly disappeared as he was named the First Division player of the year as he helped Hibs sweep back to the SPL at the first time of asking.

Lawrie said: "I think when Russell first arrived in Scotland we were all wondering who this wee guy was. But it soon became clear just how good a player he was. He enjoyed a superb career with Hibs and, even although he is now 37, I reckon he is still one of the best players in the SPL.

"Perhaps he doesn't quite have the legs any more, but his experience gets him through games.

"Get him on the ball and what he can do is unbelievable. He can do anything with the ball, his range of passing is incredible and he simply never seems to give it away.

"The Falkirk fans love watching him play as the Hibs supporters once did and as a person he's a great guy to have around the club."

A Latapy double ended Falkirk's Scottish Cup dream when the clubs met at the same stage of the competition six years ago, Lawrie giving the Bairns a glimmer of hope by cancelling out his first goal before Hibs, then under Alex McLeish, ran out 3-1 winners.

There was no Hampden appearance for Hibs that season, beaten in the semi-finals by Aberdeen but, when they did make the final the following year, Latapy was missing, thrown out of Easter Road by McLeish for a serious breach of club discipline. But with Latapy now approaching the twilight of his career - the former Porto, Boavista, Rangers and Dundee United star himself has hinted he'll soon hang up his boots - and with only three SPL sides remaining in the Cup, Lawrie feels the Caribbean star can enjoy an astonishing end to his playing days.

He said: "I know Russell is really looking forward to the World Cup finals having helped his country get there for the first time and it would be an incredible finale for him if Falkirk could get to the Scottish Cup final.

"However, there is still a long way to go before we get there. Although we are at home on Saturday I still think we are most definitely the underdogs because Hibs are enjoying another great season and it would be nice for them if all their young lads could stick together and go on to challenge the Old Firm."

Although he insists Hibs are favourites despite honours between the sides being even so far this season, Lawrie believes the fact there will be a maximum of only two SPL teams in the semi-finals, will prove to be a massive incentive for all eight clubs in action this weekend.

He said: "Hearts have to be favourites to win the Cup because they are having such a good season, but there have been so many upsets this season I don't think anyone can be absolutely confident.

"I think there's a great chance for two underdogs to go all the way this season, something that hasn't happened since Falkirk and Kilmarnock were in the final in 1997.

"Gretna, although they are in the Second Division, are punching above their weight while other clubs like Dundee and Hamilton will also think they have a chance of getting to the final."

Lawrie agreed that both Falkirk and Hibs were probably disappointed to be drawn out of the hat together but insisted each side will feel they are more than capable of advancing to the semi-finals.

Although Falkirk have yet to win an SPL game at home, they did beat Brechin City on their own turf earlier in the competition, prompting Lawrie to joke: "You could say our Cup form at home is better than the league.

"Obviously when the draw is made you are hoping for a home tie against a side from a lower division because, no disrespect to them, you'd feel you have a better chance of winning.

"As I've said, Hibs are favourites but we are quietly confident. We've lost at home to them, beaten them at Easter Road and then we drew 0-0 just a couple of weeks ago so Saturday promises to be a great match.

"It's a massive game both in terms of a semi-final place at stake and on the financial side of things for the clubs and I think we'd like to finish the tie off at home rather than face a replay in Edinburgh."

And, while there are plenty of Easter Road connections within the Falkirk dressing-room, boss John Hughes and his coaching staff of Brian Rice and Eddie May having played for Hibs as well as Latapy, Lawrie insisted sentiment won't be an emotion in great supply.

Revealing he once turned down the chance to sign an 'S' form with Hibs in favour of joining Falkirk under the YTS scheme, Lawrie said: "Obviously the gaffer is from Leith, is a Hibs fan and captained them while of a few of the boys are also Hibs supporters.

"There's plenty of links but they won't come into play on Saturday. Our league position may not be brilliant but the main thing for us this season has been to make sure we survive in the SPL.

"A good Cup run is a bonus, hopefully we can keep it going and you never know what might happen."