European windfall for Blackburn

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Blackburn Rovers, who had expected to be commencing their European Cup campaign in the preliminary round, last night landed a windfall worth at least pounds 3m when Uefa surprisingly confirmed their participation in the Champions' League.

After taking their first title in 81 years, Blackburn anticipated having to qualify for the last 16 by winning a two-leg tie before the Premiership season starts in August. But a change in the method of determining entry to the Champions' League means they now become the sixth seeds among the eight clubs assured of a place in the tournament's most lucrative stage.

Each club in the Champions' League is guaranteed pounds 1m. There is also a bonus of pounds 200,000 per point gained (Manchester United collected six points last season), as well as the revenue from television coverage, advertising and sponsorship spin-offs and gate receipts. With the League divided into four groups of four clubs, Blackburn's European adventure will run to at least six games, three of which will be at Ewood Park.

Uefa previously took into account the individual club's performances in Continental competition when deciding the seeds. Meeting in Vienna yesterday, its executive committee agreed to base qualification on the results secured over the previous five years by all teams from a particular country.

The irony is that while Kenny Dalglish's team fell at the first Uefa Cup hurdle to the Swedish part-timers of Trelleborgs last September, they are now the beneficiaries of their rivals' exploits abroad. Manchester United took part in the Champions' League last season and won the Cup- Winners' Cup in 1991. Arsenal's feat in reaching successive finals of the latter competition also aided Blackburn's cause.

The change in policy is designed to prevent a club who enjoy a handful of good results against mundane opposition in, say, the Cup-Winners' Cup, from automatically qualifying. Apart from Blackburn, other clubs confirmed are Ajax, Spartak Moscow, Porto, Juventus and Nantes, plus the German champions and, in all probability, Real Madrid.

Because of the poor record of other Dutch clubs, Ajax went into last night's European Cup final knowing that they had to win in order to avoid the preliminary stage.

Rangers, victims of Scotland's mediocre performance in Europe during the 1990s, face the prospect of not even making the qualifying round and instead having to make do with a Uefa Cup place. How they would square that with the purchase of Paul Gascoigne remains to be seen, but yesterday, the Rangers chairman David Murray insisted the Scottish champions will win the race to sign the Lazio player for pounds 4.5m

Gascoigne, who is also being chased by a string of Premiership clubs, yesterday postponed a meeting with Leeds officials in order to pursue his compensation claim with Lazio.

Ajax are champions, page 47