Scottish champion Rangers FC was awarded a tantalizing matchup with Manchester United when the UEFA Champions League group-stage draw was held Thursday in Monaco.
The Glasgow club, which starts Fontana's Maurice Edu in midfield, was placed in Group C with the English powerhouse, Spain's Valencia and Turkish champion Bursaspor. Rangers received a bye into the group stage, which begins in mid-September.
“They are all tough games, as you would expect from the Champions League draw at this stage,” Rangers head coach Walter Smith said on the club's Web site. “Man United have an obvious pedigree, and Valencia are a side that are unfortunate to be playing in a league with two of the biggest clubs in the world. They have been consistently the third-best team in [Spain's] La Liga and would have had more success without Barcelona and Real Madrid to compete with.
“We know how strong the Spanish league is and we saw that from facing Sevilla last season so we know what to expect from our trip to Spain.”
Edu (Etiwanda HS) and his team open Sept. 14 at Manchester United. Their home game in the series in Nov. 24. The top two teams in each of eight groups will advance to next year's round of 16. Group play ends Dec. 8.
The games against Manchester United will be anxiously awaited, given the rivalry between the Scots and the English. Alex Ferguson, Man U's manager, is Scottish and has a longstanding friendship with Smith, who served as an assistant coach under him in 2004.
"Walter Smith's already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford,” Ferguson told Manchester United's Web site. “Like me, he's really looking forward to our games against each other.”
Manchester United chief executive David Gill told Sky Sports TV: “There will be a great atmosphere [in Glasgow] and at Old Trafford. I remember when we played up there in Glasgow [in the Champions League] in 2003, and Phil Neville scored, and the atmosphere was amazing. The fans will make it a great occasion.”
Man United followed its 1-0 win in Glasgow seven years ago with a 3-0 triumph at home en route to the round of 16. Rangers finished last in the group, which also featured Germany's VfB Stuttgart and and Greece's Panathinaikos.
RSC Anderlecht, the club of Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan, was eliminated from the Champions League on penalties by Serbia's Partizan Belgrade in Brussels. Kljestan (Huntington Beach HS), a starter in Jupiler League matches in Belgium, did not appear in either leg against Partizan.
Aston Villa, with former Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan playing in place for former UCLA star Brad Friedel, was ousted from the UEFA Europa Cup after a home loss to Rapid Vienna. The Austrians scored two late goals for a 3-2 win and 4-3 aggregate triumph.
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers (Scotland, Premier Division)
This week: Rangers drawn into Group C, with Manchester United, Valencia and Bursaspor, for the UEFA Champions League group stage
Season: 2 games (2 starts)
Next: Sunday at Hibernian
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
This week: On the bench in support of former Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan in a 3-2 loss to Rapid Vienna in Europa League playoff second leg. Rapid advanced on aggregate, 4-3
Season: 2 games (2 starts), 6 goals allowed
Next: Sunday vs. Everton
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
This week: Was not on the 18-man roster for Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade in a UEFA Champions League playoff second leg. Aggregate was 4-4, and Partizan advanced to the group stage on penalties, 3-2.
Season: 3 league games (2 starts) with one goal; 5 games (4 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday vs. Zulte-Waregem