Race for Europe gains pace

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The Independent Football

With Celtic wrapping up the title in midweek, the remaining significant business in the Scottish Premier League centres on Hearts' battle with Rangers for second place (and a Champions' League berth), and the complexities of qualification for the Uefa Cup.

Not that Hearts, who host Dunfermline this afternoon, or Rangers, who are three points back and host Motherwell, are in any danger of letting the football itself take centre stage. At Tynecastle, the speculation over the next permanent head coach continues, with Lothar Matthaus the latest to reiterate his interest, following Berti Vogts and Nevio Scala earlier in the week. The 45-year-old German said: "I follow Scottish football and have been impressed with Hearts. I would welcome a chat with [the owner] Mr Romanov."

At Ibrox, the goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus has accused some team-mates of undermining the manager Alex McLeish and trying to get him sacked earlier in the season. "Alex McLeish has been badly let down by lots of big players as they'd had more than enough of him," the 35-year-old told Voetbal International magazine in his native Netherlands. "If he said 'left', they said 'right'. Their attitude was: 'He'll dig his own grave and we'll get rid of him'."

McLeish steps down next month, to be replaced by the Frenchman Paul Le Guen. Qualifying for the Champions' League would salvage something meaningful from a woeful campaign.

After this weekend, the SPL "split" comes into play for the final five games, with the top six at that stage facing each other once more. Hibernian, in fourth on 52 points, and Kilmarnock, in fifth on 51 - with both to face Hearts and Rangers again - have a vested interest in Rangers finishing above Hearts. Because if that happened, and Hearts win the Scottish Cup (they are hot favourites to do so against Gretna), then a Uefa Cup slot will be awarded to the team who finish fourth in the SPL. If Hearts finish second in the SPL and win the Cup, Gretna will get the Uefa Cup place.

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