Football: Raith launch first European campaign

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The Independent Online
Motherwell and Raith Rovers launch the new season for Scotland's top clubs tonight when they open their European campaigns.

Victories in Europe by Scottish clubs have become rare, with all four entrants failing to reach the second round last season. However, Motherwell and Raith should be able to negotiate the preliminary round of the Uefa Cup against opponents from Finland and the Faroe Islands respectively.

Raith, the Coca-Cola Cup winners and Premier Division newcomers, play in Europe for the first time by entertaining GI Gotu at Stark's Park.

Gotu won the Faroese championship last season and boast the most famous footballer from the islands - the bobble-hatted goalkeeper Jens Martin Knudsen, who starred in the international side's one and only victory over Austria.

He was beaten seven times by Scotland in two European Championship fixtures last season, but the Raith manager, Jimmy Nicholl, is anxious that complacency does not affect his team. "Everyone is expecting us to win by a few because they are part-timers, but we lost to Glentoran last week," Nicholl said.

Motherwell are also at home for their first leg against Finland's MyPa Anjalankoski. MyPa are currently top of their league after 14 games of their season, so the Motherwell manager, Alex McLeish, believes his side will have to be at their best.

McLeish could give a Fir Park debut to John Hendry, their pounds 200,000 summer signing from Spurs. He also has the Dutch defender, Mitchel Van der Gaag and the club captain Chris McCart fully fit again after operations towards the end of last season.

Two Welsh clubs also have home Uefa Cup ties tonight: Bangor City, the champions of the League of Wales, play the experienced Poles, Widzew Lodz, while runners-up Afan Lido meet RAF Riga of Latvia.

Unlike Bangor City, who first appeared in the Cup-Winners' Cup as long ago as 1962, when they took Napoli to three games, Afan Lido are making their European debut. The club from Port Talbot are staging the tie at Aberavon Rugby Union ground, and are hoping for a crowd of around 4,000. The club's chairman, Andrew Edwards, doubles as the reserve goalkeeper.