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August 2003
Scottish Clubs progress in Europe











Just after 4pm on Saturday August 23rd, Rangers looked to be a club staring into the abyss. Rocked by stories about a £60M plus debt, supporters disillusioned by another poor European showing - against Copenhagen - and with skipper Barry Ferguson on his way to Blackburn, the Ibrox team faced defeat at home against Hibs.

The Easter Road side had already twice taken the lead before being pegged back and were then awarded a penalty. Defeat followed by an exit from Europe and Ferguson's departure would have left their hopes for 2003-04 in ruins before a single leaf had fallen from a tree. But Stefan Klos saved the shot, Rangers went on to win 5-2 then turned their fortunes round even more spectatularly with a 2-1 win in Denmark to ensure qualification to the Champions League.

While it would be exaggerating to suggest that all is now rosy in Govan or that Copenhagen were a team of world-beaters, there is no doubt that the Gers success in Denmark was an excellent result and their debt problems will be eased somewhat by the guaranteed millions of Swiss Francs their qualification will bring them.

All told it has been an excellent start for our teams in Europe. Celtic have followed on from last season's UEFA Cup Final by brushing aside Lithuanian and Hungarian opposition, twice winning 4-0 away, to reach the promised land of the Champions League.

Just as Celtic's progress to date has been smoother so too do their prospects for advancement seem brighter. An away trip to Bayern Munich is a daunting start to their Champions League campaign but neither of their other opponents - Olympique Lyons and Anderlecht - were on anybody's 'must avoid' list when the draw was made.

Of course it won't be easy but Celtic have a fair chance of making the last sixteen.

Rangers appear to have drawn the short straw. Not in terms of glamour - the presence of Manchester United in their group is testimony to that - but it is difficult to see how the Scottish champions can make any further progress. No one relishes a trip to Athens to face Panathinaikos, which is the second match in their itinerary. And when you consider that is followed by back-to-back tussles with the team from Old Trafford you can appreciate just how big a task Rangers face to qualify.

Fortunately they face Stuttgart at home in their first match. German sides in general have been slipping in Europe in the past few seasons - there are as many Scottish teams in this year's Champions League as German ones. And Stuttgart in particular don't have a great record against the Scots. They only squeezed past Hearts on away goals in the UEFA Cup three seasons ago and were beaten by Celtic in the same competition last season.

Even so the most optimistic scenario would see Rangers relying on good home results and hoping for draws when Stuttgart and Panathinaikos face each other.

Dundee kept up the good work in the UEFA Cup with a 6-0 aggregate win over Vllaznia, becoming the first Scottish team to win in Albania in the process. That brought our teams record in Europe this season to P8 W7 D1 L0 F19 A2. OK, our sides were seeded to win these ties but seeds can come unstuck - as Newcastle United and Borussia Dortmund can testify.

The first-ever Scottish victory in Albania

No matter which way you look at it that's an impressive record and one which helps our future rankings. Our remaining team - Hearts - are already the beneficiaries of a rise in the co-efficient, being seeded in the first round of the UEFA Cup. Opponents Zeljeznicar will be no pushovers - they were beaten by Kilmarnock a few seasons ago in a close contest - but Hearts will be favourites to go through.

Unlike Dundee, whose reward for their impressive return to Europe after nearly 30 years is to face Perugia. The Italians may not be one of the glamour sides of Serie A but 10th place in Italy should be good enough to see off 6th placed in Scotland.

Perugia were poor travellers last season, winning just once away in the League. But they appear to have overcome this weakness in the Inter Toto Cup. The Italians reached the UEFA Cup with wins along the way in Finland, in France against Nantes and in Wolfsburg in Germany.

What is more they didn't concede a single goal in their six Inter Toto ties. A Dundee victory would be a major upset.

At any rate we are guaranteed four teams in Europe until mid-October and two at least until December. It's been the best start for Scottish sides in Europe for many years.

All we need now is for the national team to do likewise.


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