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Rangers and Dinamo ready for lift-off

Published: Friday 22 July 2011, 10.11CET
As FC Zenit St Petersburg look to maintain their challenge for top spot in Russia, Rangers FC get set to kick off the new Scottish season, one of four leagues gearing up for their first weekend.
Rangers and Dinamo ready for lift-off
Rangers kick off their title defence against Hearts ©Getty Images

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Published: Friday 22 July 2011, 10.11CET

Rangers and Dinamo ready for lift-off

As FC Zenit St Petersburg look to maintain their challenge for top spot in Russia, Rangers FC get set to kick off the new Scottish season, one of four leagues gearing up for their first weekend.

Scotland: Rangers FC v Heart of Midlothian FC (Saturday, 13.30)
The Scottish champions are under new management following Walter Smith's retirement, with all-time leading scorer Ally McCoist taking the reins for the first time against Hearts. Neil Lennon's Celtic FC get their campaign under way at Hibernian FC on Sunday having been pipped to the title by a single point last time out. After a four-year absence from the Premier League, Dunfermline Athletic FC start as favourites for a swift return to the first division but manager Jim McIntyre can take heart; the last three promoted sides – Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC, Saint Johnstone FC and Hamilton Academical FC – all survived their first seasons back in the top flight.

Moldova: FC Iskra-Stal v FC Zimbru Chisinau (Saturday, 17:00)
Title favourites FC Dacia Chisinau and FC Sheriff begin with relatively favourable ties – against FC Nistru Otaci and FC CSCA-Rapid Ghidighici respectively. Eight-time champions Zimbru, meanwhile, have grand ambitions in the new 12-team league after new investment. "You will see Zimbru, Dacia and Sheriff with the medals and I am 99% sure Sheriff won't be champions," said Zimbru co-owner Adlan Shishkanov. The Tiraspol side, whose run of ten successive championships ended last term, are determined to prove their detractors wrong. "The main thing is to build a real team," said coach Vitali Rashkevich. "The rest will depend on how we play."

Croatia: NK Dinamo Zagreb v NK Inter Zaprešić (Saturday, 18.00)
Under new boss Krasimir Balakov, HNK Hajduk Split got the Croatian season started with a 2-1 win against HNK Šibenik on Tuesday. Champions Dinamo enter the fray on Saturday at their newly-renovated stadium, bidding for a seventh successive title. Coach Krunoslav Jurčić – back for a second spell in charge – is confident his reinforced squad can make progress in Europe as well as in the Croatian league and cup, saying: "I want to have a squad of 20 top players that can compete on three fronts, and I'm sure they will do their best in the battle for their places in the team."

Russia: FC Anzhi Makhachkala v FC Zenit St Petersburg (Sunday, 19:00)
Reigning champions Zenit can expect a tough test when they visit big-spending Anzhi as the Russian season resumes following a four-week break. Fourth-placed Anzhi will be without Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa and Brazilian striker Diego Tardelli, but Zenit – second behind PFC CSKA Moskva – are also without two star men, Russia midfielders Sergei Semak and Vladimir Bystrov. "We expect a tough match," said Zenit defender Nicolas Lombaerts. "It's always difficult to play in the Caucasus, and Anzhi are a good team. I don't know whether they are good enough to fight for the title, but if they keep buying world-class stars, why not?"

Romania: FC Petrolul Ploiesti v FC Oţelul Galaţi (Monday, 20.30)
Champions Oţelul begin their defence against promoted Petrolul but are unlikely to be taking anything for granted. Their opponents are no strangers to the top flight and have an experienced squad containing its fair share of internationals. However, even after a reasonably muted summer of transfer activity, the titleholders' high expectations remain intact following last weekend's Super Cup triumph. "Although we did not get good results at our training camps, we have prepared well for the new season," said Oţelul midfielder Gabriel Paraschiv, 33. "The fact we play against a newly-promoted side does not mean we're already winners. It will be very tough, as will the whole season."

Last updated: 22/07/11 15.23CET

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