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Rangers ready for seconds

Published: Friday 29 July 2005, 13.36CET
Scottish champions Rangers FC will unfurl the championship flag on Sunday with Celtic FC in a mini-crisis. features

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Published: Friday 29 July 2005, 13.36CET

Rangers ready for seconds

Scottish champions Rangers FC will unfurl the championship flag on Sunday with Celtic FC in a mini-crisis.
By Alex O'Henley

Scottish champions Rangers FC will unfurl the championship flag when they host Livingston FC on Sunday, beginning the defence of the trophy they won in such dramatic fashion on the final day of last season.

Late drama
With two minutes remaining, rivals Celtic FC were on course to retain their Premier League title leading 1-0 against Motherwell FC at Fir Park, but two quick goals from striker Scott McDonald handed the trophy to Rangers who won 1-0 at Hibernian FC.

Rangers stability
It remains to be seen whether this campaign can come up with another thrilling climax, but the Ibrox club will start as favourites. A settled squad has been bolstered by the arrivals of José Pierre-Fanfan and Brahim Hemdani, the former respective captains of Paris Saint-Germain FC and Olympique de Marseille.

Champions League ambition
They are joined by loan striker Federico Nieto from Argentina's Club Almagro and Hibernian FC defender Ian Murray. Retaining the Scottish Premier League crown is the priority but manager Alex McLeish will also want to make his mark in the UEFA Champions League with Rangers entering at the third qualifying stage.

Artmedia débâcle
Ironically, Celtic are back at Fir Park for their opening game on Saturday, but the players and new manager Gordon Strachan are already under pressure following their 5-0 defeat by FC Artmedia Bratislava in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie - a game in which Chris Sutton fractured a cheekbone, potentially ruling him out of the first 'Old Firm' game at Ibrox on 20 August.

Transitional phase
A summer of transition has seen the departure of manager Martin O'Neill along with ten players including former captain Jackie McNamara and Scotland goalkeeper Rab Douglas. Strachan has brought in seven players but will need time to blend the likes of Japanese playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura and Polish striker Maciej Zurawski with seasoned campaigners such as Neil Lennon and John Hartson.

Hearts beating faster
Wresting the title from his former team-mate McLeish will be Strachan's aim, although he may even be forced to look over his shoulder at a new challenge, so vigorous has been Heart of Midlothian FC's recruitment drive.

International pedigree
Hearts's new manager George Burley has taken Lithuania forward Edgaras Jankauskas on loan from FBK Kaunas along with Czech midfielder Rudolf Skácel and hopes to attract more new faces to Tynecastle before their opener at Kilmarnock FC.

Dons target top three
Aberdeen FC will seek to improve on last season's fourth place having added to their attacking options with the signings of Barry Nicholson, Jamie Smith and Steve Lovell. Third last term, Hibernian FC may be pushed as low as fifth by their rapidly improving rivals.

UEFA Cup return
Elsewhere, Dundee United FC - who return to European competition after a seven-year absence following their Scottish Cup final appearance against Celtic - will bid to challenge for a top-six finish having spent much of 2004/05 fighting relegation.

Falkirk hope
Promoted Falkirk FC are favourites to go back down to the First Division but will take heart from opening-day opponents Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC, after the Highland club finished eighth in their top-flight debut last term.

Last updated: 30/07/05 17.09CET

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