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EUROPE: Rangers' title hopes dimming

Rangers FC's back-to-back Scottish Premier League titles might not get another “-to-back.” Sunday's 3-0 loss in the fourth of seven “Old Firm” meetings this season with archival Celtic FC has left Gers on the verge of elimination in two competitions.

And the Bhoys can end Rangers' title hopes in two more competitions, too.

Gary Hooper scored twice in the first 28 minutes Sunday at Celtic Park as Celtic's lead over Rangers (18-4-2) reached eight points, 64-56. The Blues, with Fontana's Maurice Edu a constant in central midfield, have two games in hand, but another loss could leave a gap too great to be bridged.

“Celtic deserved to win the game -- I don’t think we can have any complaints,” Rangers manager Walter Smith told reporters. “Our possession and defending was poor. It was as disappointing an Old Firm game since [returning to the club in 2007 after a decade away]. … The pressure is now on us to try and get a level of consistency in our game to make sure that when the next Old Firm game comes round, we’re in better shape.”

There are three more Old Firm meetings to go: in a March 2 Scottish Cup fifth-round replay at Celtic Park, in the March 20 Scottish League Cup final at Hampden Park, and at Rangers' Ibrox home in the championship bracket during the SPL season's final phase. Celtic is 2-1-1 in the first four this season, with two successive SPL wins.

Rangers has won 53 Scottish League titles, but not three in a row since a string of nine ended in the 1997-98 season. Celtic has 43. The last time a club other than Rangers or Celtic won? 1985 (Aberdeen).

Rangers' first priority: getting past Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League's round of 32, a task made more difficult by last week's draw at Ibrox.

EUROPA LEAGUE: Neither Rangers nor Belgian champ RSC Anderlecht managed the kind of result their were looking for in the Europa League's knockout openers. At least Rangers remains alive.

Not so Anderlecht, not without a miracle, after Ajax Amsterdam's 3-0 romp in Brussels in a round-of-32 first-leg match. Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan wasn't called upon. Ajax will be home for this week's second leg, and that will be all for the Mauves.

Rangers pulled out a 1-1 draw with Sporting Lisbon, which means this: The Scottish champs must score Thursday in Portugal to advance, but not so their opponent. A scoreless draw sends Sporting to the round of 16.

The first-leg scores (home teams listed first; second teams listed will be home for Thursday's second legs):

RSC Anderlecht (Belgium) 0, Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) 3

FC Basel (Switzerland) 2, Spartak Moscow (Russia) 3

Rangers FC (Scotland) 1, Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) 1

Lille (France) 2, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) 2

Napoli (Italy) 0, Villarreal (Spain) 0

Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine) 0, Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 4

Benfica (Portugal) 2, VfB Stuttgart (Germany) 1

BATE (Belarus) 2, Paris St.-Germain (France) 2

Besiktas (Turkey) 1, Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) 4

Aris Thessaloniki (Greece) 0, Manchester City (England) 0

Rubin Kazan (Russia) 0, FC Twente (Netherlands) 2

Young Boys Berne (Switzerland) 2, Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1

PAOK Thessaloniki (Greece) 0, CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1

Sevilla (Spain) 1, FC Porto (Portugal) 2

Lech Poznan (Poland) 1, Sporting Braga (Portugal) 0

Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) 0, Liverpool (England) 0

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: The last four round-of-16 series begin this week in the UEFA Champions League, the world's top club competition. Chelsea visits FC Copenhagen and Real Madrid plays at Lyon on Tuesday; Inter Milan is home against Bayern Munich and Manchester United is at Olympique Marseille on Wednesday.

Last week's first-leg scores (second legs March 8-9):

AC Milan (Italy) 0, Tottenham (England) 1

Valencia (Spain) 1, Schalke 04 (Germany) 1

AS Roma (Italy) 2, Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 3

Arsenal (England) 2, Barcelona (Spain) 1

ETC.: Kljestan was back in the starting XI but lasted just a half as RSC Anderlecht was stunned, 2-0, at Westerlo, falling into second place in Belgium's Jupiler League -- behind Genk on goal difference, plus-38 to plus-37. Third-place KAA Gent is seven points back. … Irvine's Matt Taylor returned to Rot Weiss Ahlen's lineup after missing three games with a calf injury, and he came close to scoring three times in a 2-1 victory over Kickers Offenbach in Germany's third division. Taylor forced tough saves twice from Tobias Wolf and fired just over the crossbar on another chance. … Santa Monica's Dallas Moore and his new club, Premier Division leader St. Neots Town, face a showdown Tuesday with second-place Newport Pagnell Town in the United Counties League. The Saints hold a one-point edge with two games in hand.

  • AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE

D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)

Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)

Last week: 90 minutes as Les Verts (9-7-8) dropped to seventh with a 2-1 loss Saturday at Olympique Marseille

Season: 20 league games (20 starts) with 2 goals, 22 games (22 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions

Next: Saturday vs. 17th-place Nice (6-10-8)

M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)

Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier League)

Last week: Idle

Season: 1 league game (0 starts) for Aston Villa; 22 games (20 starts) with 4 goals in all competitions for Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)

Next: Saturday vs. 11th-place Blackburn (9-13-5)

D JAY DENNY (Santa Monica)

Club: Hednesford Town (England, Southern League Premier Division)

Last week: Started, played 71 minutes in a 4-2 loss Wednesday to Stafford Rangers in a Staffordshire FA Senior Cup match; 90 minutes Saturday as the sixth-place Pitmen (14-9-4) beat Chesham United, 3-2

Season: 27 league games (25 starts) with 1 goal, 9 cup games (8 starts) with 1 goal, 36 games (34 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions

Next: Wednesday at eighth-place Stourbridge (12-7-6), Saturday at 10th-place Bashley (11-12-6)

M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)

Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier Division)

Last week: 90 minutes in Thursday's 1-1 draw vs. Sporting Lisbon in a UEFA Europa League round-of-32 first leg; 90 minutes as the second-place Blues (18-4-2) were trounced, 3-0, by first-place Celtic FC

Season: 19 league games (13 starts) with 2 goals, 5 UEFA games (5 starts) with 1 goal, 28 games (21 starts) with 4 goals in all competitions

Next: Thursday at Sporting Lisbon in a UEFA Europa League round-of-32 second leg; Sunday vs. ninth-place St. Johnstone (8-11-5)

M BENNY FEILHABER (Irvine/UCLA)

Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark, 1.Division)

Last week: League is on winter break

Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 4 goals, 17 games (16 starts) overall with 7 goals

Next: March 20 vs. Hobro (5-7-3)

G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)

Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)

Last week: Idle

Season: 27 league games (27 starts), 46 goals allowed, 85 saves, 5 shutouts; 31 games (31 starts), 53 goals allowed, 98 saves, 5 shutouts in all competitions

Next: Saturday vs. 11th-place Blackburn (9-13-5)

M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)

Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)

Last week: Did not play in Thursday's 3-0 loss to Ajax Amsterdam in the UEFA Europa League round-of-32 first leg; started, played 45 minutes as the Mauves (18-3-6) fell to second place with a 2-0 loss Sunday at Westerlo

Season: 16 league games (11 starts) with 2 goals, 6 UEFA games (6 starts) with 1 goal, 24 games (19 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions

Next: Thursday at. Ajax Amsterdam in a UEFA Europa League round-of-32 second leg; Sunday at 14th-place Eupen (5-16-5)

D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)

Club: St. Neots Town FC (England, UCL Premier Division)

Last week: 90 minutes as the first-place Saints (20-1-4) on Tuesday beat Deeping Rangers, 5-2; started, did not play in a 3-1 win Thursday over Stotfold in the Hinchingbrooke Cup quarterfinals, played 71 minutes in a 3-3 draw Saturday with Blackstones FC

Season: 5 league games (5 starts) with 1 goal, 1 cup game (1 start), 6 games (6 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions for St. Neots Town; 13 games (13 starts) for Halesowen Town (England) with 1 goal

Next: Tuesday vs. second-place Newport Pagnell Town (20-2-6), Saturday vs. Eaton Socon in the Hunts Senior Cup

F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)

Club: FC Krasnodar (Russia, Russian Premier League)

Last week: League is in preseason

Season: 25 games (20 starts) with 14 goals for Randers in all competitions

Next: Season opener March 12 at Anzhi Makhachkala

F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)

Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)

Last week: Started, played 82 minutes in return from a calf injury Saturday as 16th-place Rot Weiss edged Kickers Offenbach, 2-1

Season: 16 league games (16 starts) with 10 goals, 17 games (17 starts) with 10 goals in all competitions

Next: Saturday vs. first-place Eintracht Braunschweig (18-3-4)

BOBBY WOOD (Irvine)

Club: TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)

Past week: Did not play as 11th-place 1860 (8-7-8) were beaten, 2-0, Friday vs. FC Augsburg

Season: 3 league games (0 starts), 21 games (14 starts) with 7 goals in all competitions

Next: Friday at 12th-place Union Berlin (8-10-5)