European Cup plan faces setback

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The Independent Online

The expansion of the Champions' League from 16 teams to 24 will be delayed for at least three years if room for the extra fixtures cannot be found in an already crowded calendar, Uefa, the European governing body, said yesterday.

Uefa plan to expand the Champions' League in the 1997-98 season. Teams would play in four groups of six rather than the present four groups of four, forcing each team to play four extra games. But with schedules already packed with domestic fixtures and World Cup qualifying matches, additional dates are scarce.

Rangers, the Scottish champions, face a long haul to Vladikavkaz, which lies only a few miles from the Chechen border, for the qualifying round of next season's Champions' League. They will play Alania, who were known as Spartak when they lost narrowly to Liverpool in the Uefa Cup last season.

Hearts' seeding did them no favours; they must play Red Star Belgrade in the qualifying round of the Cup Winners' Cup while the Welsh Cup holders, Llansantffraid (population 940), will also do well to progress after being drawn against Ruch Chorzow, of Poland. Glentoran, meanwhile, face Sparta Prague, whose players performed so creditably in Euro 96 for the Czech Republic.

Uefa has added its voice to those opposed to the television deal negotiated by Fifa, the world's governing body, for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Uefa's executive committee believed Fifa acted hastily when it sold the rights for $2.2bn to the German media mogul Leo Kirch and the Swiss-based marketing company ISL and that it did not receive sufficient guarantees.

Steve Lomas, the Manchester City midfielder, has finally rejected a pounds 1.5m move to Wimbledon because he did not want to cheat them. "I've turned it down for football reasons," he said. "I didn't want to go there not feeling right, join them for four years and then may be try to get out after a season. That would have been cheating them."

City are favourites to sign Christian Dailly, of Dundee United, for pounds 250,000. The Scotland Under-21 striker made a second visit to Manchester yesterday upon his return from Spain after being offered a pounds 6,000-a-week four-year deal by Celta Vigo. The Italian club Cagliari are also interested in signing him.

Paul Wilkinson, released on a free transfer by Middlesbrough, may be on his way to Hearts following talks with the club.