Football: Rangers await European fate

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THE SCOTTISH treble winners, Rangers, are among the clubs who will attend today's draw for the preliminary rounds of an expanded Champions' League in Geneva, fired by dreams of emulating Manchester United's feat of going all the way from the qualifying stages to lifting the European Cup itself.

Rangers will enter the competition in the second of three qualifying rounds, with their games being played over two legs on 28 July and 4 August. Among their possible opponents will be Barry Town, of Wales, the Belfast club Glentoran and Dublin's St Patrick's Athletic, who all face an even earlier start in the first round on 14 and 21 July.

Chelsea's quest to join United and Arsenal in the lucrative group phase of the Champions' League will start in the new third qualifying round, to be played on a home and away basis in August. Gianluca Vialli's team will learn their opponents on 23 July.

United, whose triumphant campaign had relatively humble origins in the qualifying round against the Poles of LKS Lodz early last August, will begin the defence of their trophy on 15 or 16 September. This year there will be eight groups of four clubs, as opposed to six in previous seasons.

Bayern Munich, whose road to Barcelona also started in the preliminary rounds, are among the 16 clubs exempt until the group stage, where they are joined by their Bundesliga rivals Bayer Leverkusen. Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands also boast two automatic qualifiers apiece. The Germans, Italians and Spaniards each have an unprecedented four entrants overall in what was originally conceived as an exclusive tournament.

Today's draws offer few such glamorous or exotic destinations. Rangers, eliminated by IFK Gothenburg before last August was out, have been seeded and thus cannot encounter Dynamo Kiev, who lost only 4-3 on aggregate to Bayern in last season's semi-finals.

Barry, who did well to keep Kiev down to a 6-0 aggregate last summer, will join the Irish representatives in hoping to miss out on expensive and arduous treks to Tsement Ararat in Armenia, Sloga Jugomagnat in Macedonia, Zimbru Chisinau of Moldova or the splendidly named Kapaz Ganja in Azerbaijan.