Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Bitter rivals take it down to the wire in Scottish league

AP , GLASGOW

The Scottish title race between Celtic and Rangers is the closest in living memory -- with the two teams going into the final round of games tied on points and goal difference.

The only thing separating defending champion Celtic from its big rival is that Rangers have scored one more goal.

If both teams win by the same margin tomorrow and Celtic catch up on goals scored, the clubs will meet in a playoff at Hampden Park June 3.

Because Rangers have home advantage against fifth-place Dunfermline and Celtic goes to fourth-place Kilmarnock, Alex McLeish's team should end Celtic's run of two championships in a row.

Martin O'Neill's team is coming off a grueling and heartbreaking UEFA Cup final defeat to FC Porto on Wednesday. Celtic lost 3-2 after extra time.

Swedish defender Johan Mjallby said the stifling heat of the Estadio Olimpico in Seville had taken a lot out of the players.

"I can't believe we now have a game on Sunday to think about," Mjallby said. "But that is what we must do now. We have to be professional and look after things. We know what we have to do to get back on track.

"But I am not going to lie and say we that tiredness is not going to be a factor now, because it is always there after a night like that," he said.

Rangers, meanwhile, have had several days off to prepare and are in a good position to regain the title. They lost 2-1 at home to Celtic a month ago and then squandered an eight-point advantage.

Shota Arveladze, a Georgian international striker who has helped Rangers win three domestic cups, said taking the league title from Celtic would top them all.

"It would mean so much to me to win the league here but it is important for the club to become champions to show how far we have come," he said.

"The title is the main prize and I would swap all the cups I have won in Scotland to win the title," he said.

Rangers striker Michael Mols said the team should not be worried about what Celtic is doing at Kilmarnock.

"We must be focused on what we are doing at Ibrox and not what is happening at Rugby Park," the Dutch forward said.

"It might be handy to know what is going on at certain times, but I don't think we should be concerned with what the Celtic score is.

"It is important to play our own game and we have to look at our own performance. We have to score lots of goals and I'm sure our crowd will let us know if it is enough," Mols said.

"We know what is at stake and everybody here has a strong belief that the season will have a happy ending.

"It would mean everything to me to win the league. I signed to win the championship and make a contribution and hopefully we can do it on Sunday."

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