Football: Unlucky Rangers to face Salonika in Europe

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The Independent Online
THE RANGERS manager Dick Advocaat reckons fate could hardly have been crueler to his side in yesterday's Uefa Cup draw.

The groupings were such that the Ibrox outfit knew they would face one of four seeds in the second qualifying round draw and, in PAOK Salonika, were paired with the team they feared most.

Apart from the quality of the Greek side, who defeated Arsenal in last season's Uefa Cup, there is the hostility off the field for Rangers to contend with.

Earlier this decade, PAOK Salonika received a two-year ban from European competition because of the behaviour of their fans who have a violent reputation.

Advocaat said: "I think it the worst draw we could have got, they have an excellent team and it will be quite difficult, but we have to do it.

"Every year they fight for the championship and last year Arsenal lost to them over two legs so we will use the tapes of those games.

"It is a hostile stadium and a few years ago they had many problems there and were banned for a couple of years."

PAOK Salonika finished fourth in last season's championship, a repeat of their showing the previous year.

Rangers' only previous meeting with Greek opposition ended in defeat four years ago to AEK Athens. The Ibrox side lost both legs of the 1994- 95 European Cup preliminary tie - 1-0 at home and 2-0 away.

Kilmarnock, Scotland's other Uefa Cup, hope meet Sigma Olomouc of the Czech Republic as a reward for defeating the Bosnians Zeljeznicar. Sigma Olomouc finished third in their own domestic campaign last term - an improvement from eighth the season before.

The team play in the south-east of the Czech Republic and are based around 150 miles from Prague.

Scotland's Premier League clubs could be handed an extra European place next season if they maintain their record of good behaviour this term.

It could even go to a club that finishes in the bottom half of the league if the behaviour of players, officials and spectators comes out on top of the `Fair Play' league.

Uefa are conducting a European-wide Fair Play assessment system which will result in a ranking list of top division leagues.

The governing body will give additional Uefa Cup places to the national associations with the best fair play rankings.

Scotland came top of those rankings for 1997-98 season when the assessments were based on the performances of their club sides in Europe.

But this year, every match in the new Premier League will be assessed, with the possible extra place going to the club that wins the domestic Fair Play competition.

The SFA spokesman Andy Mitchell said: "The rules are drawn up by Uefa and they have specified that it is the winner of Fair Play League that gets the extra place."

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