Rangers may face a short summer

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The Independent Online
Rangers' top players are facing a close-season break of barely a fortnight next summer if they succeed in landing another attempt at the Champions' League. The Ibrox manager, Walter Smith, yesterday spoke out about the extraordinary demands made on British players after another dismal European campaign.

While he did not offer too many games as an excuse for a fifth defeat in six Champions' League matches - 2-1 at Auxerre on Wednesday - Smith believes no other sport expects top performers to peak so frequently. If, and Smith stressed "if", Rangers win the Scottish title for the ninth successive year in May to equal Celtic's record they are likely to face two Champions' League preliminary rounds.

Scotland's recent record in Europe is such that it looks odds-on that Uefa's co-efficient table will condemn the champions to that fate prior to the lucrative group stages. The first leg of the first round is scheduled for 23 July, offering a massive headache for either Glasgow club. Scotland's last World Cup qualifier this season is due in Belarus on 7 June, so there would be six weeks to fit in a break and pre-season training for international players.

n The Italian federation are reported to have selected Cesare Maldini, the former captain of Italy, to be the country's new national coach following the resignation of Arrigo Sacchi. A formal announcement will be made on 16 December.

EUROPEAN CUP Quarter-finals: 1 Borussia Dortmund v Auxerre; 2 Manchester United v Porto; 3 Ajax v Atletico Madrid; 4 Rosenborg Trondheim v Juventus. (First legs 5 March, second legs 19 March). Semi-finals: 9 and 23 April (winners tie 1 v tie 2; tie 3 v tie 4). Final: 28 May (Munich).

EUROPEAN CUP-WINNERS' CUP Final: 14 May (Rotterdam).

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