London Hearts Supporters Club

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Craig Levein <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Tonny Kolbech Poulsen
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Hearts up against Gullit


HEARTS will begin their UEFA Cup Group A campaign with one of the toughest possible assignments - a visit to Ruud Gullit’s Feyenoord. The Dutch club, winners of the competition in 2002, are the top seeds in a group which also includes Schalke 04 from Germany, FC Basel of Switzerland, and the Hungarian team Ferencvaros.

Alex McLeish’s Rangers, the top seeds in Group F, have what should be a far easier task. They have been grouped with the Austrian champions Grazer AK, the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, the respected French outfit Auxerre and the unheralded Polish minnows Amica Wronki.

With three teams qualifying for the knockout stages from each group, Rangers will be odds-on favourites to make it through to the knockout stages. Hearts, however, look like having a far harder task in a group which could be the tightest of them all.

After the visit to Feyenoord on 21 October, Hearts host Schalke at Murrayfield on 4 November. They travel to Basel on matchday three, 25 November, sit out the fourth round of fixtures on 1 December, then end up with a home game against Ferencvaros on 16 December.

Having excelled themselves against Braga to get to this stage, Hearts will approach the campaign more in expectation than trepidation, according to Levein. "It’s exciting - we’re talking about some really high-quality sides," he said yesterday.

"Feyenoord are a massive team with a great European pedigree. I think we’ll get a decent following there, and if we can get off to a decent start and sneak a point then I’ll be delighted.

"The whole thing excites me - getting the opportunity to play so many different styles of football in such a short space of time, the players, the management set-ups, the new stadiums - the whole thing."

McLeish, meanwhile, sounded a cautious approach last night despite his obvious satisfaction at a favourable UEFA Cup draw for the Ibrox club. Rangers will start with a trip to Poland on 21 October, have a rest day on 4 November, entertain Grazer on 25 November, travel to Alkmaar on 2 December and conclude with the visit to Ibrox of Auxerre on 15 December. McLeish said: "People will say that we can progress from the group but they are all decent sides and we can disrespect no-one in Europe, having seen our two games against Maritimo in the last round.

"We would have to think the draw could have been tougher. I’m just delighted to be at this stage of the competition and I’d love to think we could progress further."

The draw has special resonance for two Rangers players, who will be facing their previous clubs. Jean-Alain Boumsong, the French international defender, will relish the match against Auxerre from whom he joined Rangers in the summer, while Fernando Ricksen will return to Alkmaar for the first time since his transfer to Ibrox four years ago.

"Alkmaar are an emerging club," said McLeish, "and we actually had a couple of lads from their technical staff over last year having a look at Murray Park. We will do our homework on every team in the group, but Jean-Alain’s inside information on Auxerre will hopefully help us through that one."

Hearts will hope Mark de Vries’ knowledge of the Dutch game will help against Feyenoord, who won this tournament as recently as 2002, defeating Rangers en route in the quarter-final. The striker played in Holland for Dordrecht before moving to Tynecastle.

The match against Basel will see Levein pitting his wits against Christian Gross, the former Tottenham coach who masterminded the Swiss side’s win over Celtic in a Champions League qualifier two years ago.

The clash with Schalke, who won the UEFA Cup in 1997, is likely to be the most lucrative in terms of television money.

Newcastle, the top seeds in Group D, have been drawn with Sporting Lisbon, Sochaux of France, Panionios from Greece and Dinamo Tbilisi of Georgia. Middlesbrough, the other remaining English team in the competition, will meet Italian top seeds Lazio, Villarreal from Spain, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia, and Egaleo from Greece.

Taken from the Scotsman

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