Promising draw for Blackburn

Football
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The Independent Online
The word Trelleborgs is usually enough to stop those with Blackburn Rovers at heart becoming carried away with ideas of European Cup glory. Even so, yesterday's draw for the Champions' League was as kind to Alan Shearer and Co as it was harsh on Rangers.

Blackburn, whose first foreign foray was curtailed by the Swedish part- timers a year ago, avoided the big guns of Italy, Spain or the Netherlands and instead face Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and the Norwegian champions, Rosenborg Trondheim, in their six-match mini-league.

In contrast, Rangers' path to the quarter-finals is blocked by two former holders, Juventus and Steaua Bucharest, plus the Bundesliga's finest, Borussia Dortmund.

Tony Parkes, assistant to the Blackburn manager, Ray Harford, described their section as "unglamorous . . . a journey into the unknown". He added: "We're aware there are no soft touches at this level. It'll take a lot of work on our part, and we're already making plans to watch our opponents."

Spartak, in particular, are far from an unknown quantity. Their players, past and present, provide the majority of Russia's national side. Three years ago they put Liverpool out of the Cup-Winners' Cup on a 6-2 aggregate. In last year's Champions' League, they beat Dynamo Kiev and drew twice with Bayern Munich.

While Blackburn should be capable of taking one of the top two places, the Rangers manager, Walter Smith, welcomed a "daunting but interesting draw". He took heart from the fact that they will not encounter Roberto Baggio, who has left Juventus for Milan, though containing Alessandro Del Piero is unlikely to be any easier.

Dortmund also present a formidable obstacle. They have added Jurgen Kohler, from Juventus, to a squad bristling with Serie A refugees like Andreas Moller, Karlheinz Riedle, Stefan Reuter, Matthias Sammer and Brazil's Julio Cesar. At least Rangers may have the measure of Steaua, whom they thumped 4-0 in a pre-season tournament.

It may appear that an Anglo-Russian Trophy is in progress this autumn. In the Uefa Cup, Manchester United and Liverpool meet Rotor Volgograd and Spartak Vladikavkaz respectively, both travelling in the first leg. Alex Ferguson doubtless spoke for Roy Evans with his reaction: "Where is it?"

For United, who went out to Torpedo Moscow in 1992, the answer is 1,000 miles north of the capital. Liverpool's opponents come from the southern region of North Ossetia, close to the border with war-torn Chechnya. Vladikavkaz have the Russian League's best support, averaging 35,000, and lead Spartak Moscow in the race for a place in next season's Champions' Cup.

Leeds pulled out a comparative plum in Monaco, now coached by Jean Tigana and captained by Basil Boli. Howard Wilkinson, tongue only slightly in cheek, was quick to volunteer for spying duties in Monte Carlo. Curiously, Leeds's only match in France during 12 previous Continental campaigns was the ill-starred European Cup final in Paris 20 years ago.

Nottingham Forest's pairing with Malmo evokes more wholesome memories. With the current manager, Frank Clark, at full-back and Trevor Francis scoring the winner on his European debut, Forest beat the Swedes in a dull final in Munich to win the premier prize in 1979.

Everton, like Forest, are in Europe after a decade's absence. The Merseysiders, back in the Cup-Winners' Cup they lifted before English clubs were banned after the Heysel disaster, drew an easy-looking tie against KR Reykjavik. However, Celtic join the trail to the former Soviet Union for a more awkward task against the Georgians of Batumi. Champions' League 1995/96 13 Sept: Group A: Nantes v Porto; Dynamo Kiev v Panathinaikos. Group B: Legia Warsaw v Rosenborg Trondheim; Blackburn v Spartak Moscow. Group C: Borussia Dortmund v Juventus; Steaua Bucharest v Rangers. Group D: Ajax v Real Madrid; Grasshopper Zurich v F erencvaros. 27 Sept: Group A: Panathinaikos v Nantes; Porto v Dynamo Kiev. Group B: Spartak Moscow v Legia Warsaw; Rosenborg Trondheim v Blackburn Rovers. Group C: Rangers v Borussia Dortmund; Juventus v Steaua Bucharest. Group D: Ferencvaros v Ajax; Real Madrid v G rasshopper Zurich. 18 Oct: Group A: Nantes v Dynamo Kiev; Porto v Panathinaikos. Group B: Legia Warsaw v Blackburn Rovers; Rosenborg Trondheim v Spartak Moscow. Group C: Borussia Dortmund v Steaua Bucharest; Juventus v Rangers. Group D: Ajax v Grasshopper Zurich; RealMadr id v Ferencvaros. 1 Nov: Group A: Panathinaikos v Porto; Dynamo Kiev v Nantes. Group B: Spartak Moscow v Rosenborg Trondheim; Blackburn Rovers v Legia Warsaw. Group C: Rangers v Juventus; Steaua Bucharest v Borussia Dortmund. Group D: Ferencvaros v Real Madrid; Grasshoppe r Zurich v Ajax. 22 Nov: Group A: Panathinaikos v Dynamo Kiev; Porto v Nantes. Group B: Spartak Moscow v Blackburn Rovers; Rosenborg Trondheim v Legia Warsaw. Group C: Rangers v Steaua Bucharest; Juventus v Borussia Dortmund. Group D: Ferencvaros v Grasshopper Zurich; Re al Madrid v Ajax. 6 Dec: Group A: Nantes v Panathinaikos; Dynamo Kiev v Porto. Group B: Legia Warsaw v Spartak Moscow; Blackburn Rovers v Rosenborg Trondheim. Group C: Borussia Dortmund v Rangers; Steaua Bucharest v Juventus. Group D: Ajax v Ferencvaros; Grasshopper Zuric h v Real Madrid. Cup-Winners' Cup and

Uefa Cup draws,

Sporting Digest, page 27

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