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Reyna, Rangers bounce back from Champions loss with strong effort.

By Robert Wagman

(Monday November 8, 1999) -- Just a few days after being bounced from the Champions League, Glasgow Rangers showed they are still far and away the class of the Scottish First Division with an easy 4-2 victory over Celtic.

This was the season's first so-called "Old Firm" match between the two crosstown, sectarian, rivals.

American midfielder Claudio Reyna, back from a month long thigh injury, played a strong match and was involved in two of Rangers scoring plays. The victory moved Rangers four points clear of Celtic, with a match in hand.

The victory showed Rangers' depth. On Wednesday, in the 1-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich, they lost leading scorer Michael Mols for the season in a collision with Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Mols has been Rangers best offensive player this season, but Reyna and his teammates picked up the scoring slack.

Rangers now get ready for third-round play in the UEFA Cup, the consolation prize for getting dumped out of the Champions League.

How well is Rayo Vallecano playing? Before the season, it would have been happy to be mentioned in the same breath as longtime Madrid rival Real Madrid. But to show how far Rayo has come, on Saturday night in front of a international television audience, it dominated the first half against Real and led 2-0 at the break.

Rayo could not hold off Real for 90 minutes, however. Less than a minute into the second half Real's gifted young striker Fernando Morientes caught Rayo defenders flatfooted and push the ball past United States goalkeeper Kasey Keller after a long run.

Things looked better for Rayo when Morientes was sent off for swearing at the referee

The big play of the match came in the 63d minute when Raul Gonzalez took what to everyone except the referee seemed an obvious dive in the box, and Hierro converted the resultant penalty kick to allow Real to draw level. The goal seemed to take all the fight out of Rayo and Raul scored the winner in the 85th on a magnificent chip that caught Keller flatfooted.

What an odd week it was for U.S. midfielder Tony Sanneh and Hertha Berlin. Despite a Champions League loss to group leader Chelsea, Hertha advanced to the next round thanks to a shocking loss by A.C. Milan. Then on Saturday, back in Bundesliga play, Hertha was taken apart by Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0.

Sanneh, who played the entire Chelsea match, was inserted into the Eintracht game for Andreas Neuendorf at the start of the second half with Hertha already down 3-0.

One piece of good news for Hertha. It received a favorable Champions league second-round draw. Although it is in the same group as favored Barcelona, the other two teams in the group are Sparta Prague and Porto. What it likely will come down to is whether Hertha can take four points from Porto. If so, it could advance to the quarterfinals.

In the Netherlands, Ajax keeps winning league matches, but American midfielder\defender John O'Brien is watching from the sidelines thanks to an ankle injury. The oft-injured O'Brien had finally regained match fitness and captured a place in the starting team when he twisted the ankle. The injury is not considered serious, but it has kept him out of Ajax's last three matches. It is not clear whether he will be ready to play for the U.S. in Morocco on November 17.

In Germany, U.S. midfielder Frankie Hejduk did not see action in Bayer Leverkusen's yellow card filled (9) 1-1 draw with Dortmund. In England, American goalkeeper Brad Friedel was again in the stands as Liverpool defeated Derby 2-0 with Sander Westerveld in goal. In France, U.S. defender David Regis did not play for Metz in a scoreless draw with Lens.

Robert Wagman’s "It Seems To Me . . ." column appears weekly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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