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Beitar Jerusalem team Rangers hope to avoid


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Sunday Herald - (dont hold that against them - not a badly written article!)

Salem's lot

By Michael Grant

Israel’s Beitar Jerusalem are the team Rangers will wish to avoid in Nyon on Friday

Comment

THERE WILL be no boots or strips pulled on, no referee's whistle and no stadium or supporters, but Rangers will get the unmistakable impression that their season is underway on Friday when they learn who they will face in their first European ties of the new campaign.

The SPL runners-up enter the Champions League at the second qualifying round - Celtic come in at the third round - for the draw which takes place at 11am UK time.

A delegation of Rangers officials will travel to Uefa's Nyon headquarters in Switzerland to be present at the draw being made by Uefa general secretary David Taylor and head of club competitions Michele Centenaro.

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The second qualifying round should be an easy hurdle for Rangers, although the pain will be intense if they fail to clear it.

Being among the seeds will mean Rangers cannot be drawn against some familiar and dangerous opponents such as Steaua Bucharest, Shakhtar Donetsk, Besiktas, Levski Sofia, Slavia Prague, Rosenborg, Red Star Belgrade and FC Copenhagen.

The strongest teams they can be drawn against - as far as the Uefa co-efficient would suggest - are Beitar Jerusalem of Israel or the Polish champions Zaglebie Lubin.

Given that a team knocked out in the second qualifying round goes out of Europe altogether, without the safety net of falling into the Uefa Cup - it was at this stage that Celtic lost to Artmedia Bratislava two seasons ago - being paired with Beitar would cause beads of sweat to form on manager Walter Smith's forehead.

Beitar are a far more substantial outfit than they were when Rangers eliminated them 5-3 in the 1998/99 Uefa Cup. Today, they are bankrolled by the Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak.

Being financed by Gaydamak - whose son, Alexandre, owns Portsmouth - gives Beitar the clout to sign not only the best Israeli talent but experienced foreign players such as Fabrice Fernandes, who was on loan at Rangers in 2001, and established managerial figures such as Luis Fernandez and Ossie Ardiles.

The current manager is Yossi Mizrahi, who ended the club's nine-year wait by delivering a championship win this year.

Beitar's squad is filled with Israeli senior and youth international players and the club is currently active in the transfer market as they attempt to sign the 33-year-old Argentine striker Martin Palermo, the Croatian striker Savo Milosevic, also 33, and the Israeli international midfielder Idan Tal from Bolton. Beitar would be a cruel draw for Rangers.

Zaglebie Lubin are the sort of name which will test Smith's intelligence-gathering network, although unfamiliarity with them will not tempt the Rangers manager to be dismissive. Any team which can win the Polish championship is worthy of respect.

Zaglebie, from the south-western Polish town of Lubin, became champions this year for the first time since 1991 and immediately claimed they would sign four international players in an attempt to qualify for the Champions League group stage.

A couple of the other stronger unseeded clubs Rangers would prefer to avoid are the first-time Slovenian champions, NK Domzale, and IF Elfsborg of Sweden, although both of those will also have to negotiate the first qualifying round.

There is the prospect of Rangers being drawn against Ranger's. FC Ranger's are the first Andorran club to compete in the Champions League and Scottish newspaper headline writers will salivate at the fun to be had of them making it through the first first round and being drawn against the Ibrox club.

The club with which Rangers have such a close relationship that they frequently play pre-season friendlies, Linfield of Belfast, could face them for the first time in competitive matches if the champions of Northern Ireland can negotiate the first round.

That would cause few problems from a security point of view although the same could not be said if Rangers were drawn against Derry City, the Northern Irish-based club which will represent the Republic.

Derry City are seen as representative of a nationalist community in the north but Smith will be more concerned with the fact that the club - managed this time last year by Dunfermline's Stephen Kenny - defeated Gothenburg and Gretna before narrowly going out of the Uefa Cup to Paris Saint-Germain last season.

Derry City will represent the Republic because Shelbourne won the league but elected not to apply for a Uefa licence because of financial problems.

The Welsh champions, colourfully named The New Saints, are one of the smallest clubs in the tournament.

They represent the little town of Llansantffraid, whose club used to be nicknamed The Saints. That became the origin of the current name.

The New Saints would surely create no more than a visual problem for Rangers given that their home colours are green-and-white hoops (their away shirt is blue).

Perhaps the most intriguing draw of all would pair Rangers with FBK Kaunas, again if the Lithuanian champions can get past the first round. That club is sponsored by Ukio Bankas, of which Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov is the principal shareholder.

Hearts have not qualified for Europe this season and Romanov might not be able to resist the spotlight and some mischief if his feeder team - reduced to a nursery club for Hearts - was paired with Rangers.

Rangers' opening games will be played on July 31 or August 1 - the midweek before their opening SPL fixture - with the second leg on August 7 or 8.

Meanwhile, Celtic will know their first European opponents when the draw for the third qualifying round is made on August 3 (the Old Firm will both be seeded in the third round draw and cannot draw each other).

On the same day Dunfermline will be in the draw for the Uefa Cup second qualifying round while Aberdeen will be in the August 31 draw for the Uefa Cup first round proper.

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Now that would be weird.

Rangers fans singing about guarding Derry's walls while the team go about destroying them. :lol:

We couldnt sing "we love you rangers, we do" as both teams would be like.. :classier_than_pipeguy:

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