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Football: Europe 'lifeline' for Gers.

Byline: ROBERT MARTIN and IAIN CAMPBELL

RANGERS were handed a potential Champions League lifeline after UEFA announced they would investigate Roman Abramovich's links with Chelsea and CSKA Moscow.

The billionaire was at Ibrox on Wednesday to see the Russians go through and celebrated with them.

But questions about a conflict of interest arose yesterday when CSKA and Chelsea were paired in the same group.

The probe will look into CSKA's pounds 30million three-year sponsorship deal with Sibneft, the Russian oil giant in which Abramovich holds the majority shareholding.

If UEFA find a conflict, director William Gaillard admitted it is likely CSKA will be thrown out - and Rangers will be back in.

He said: "We'll see if there is a controlling interest by Mr Abramovich with two teams in the same group.

"If there is then CSKA and Chelsea could not both take part in the competition. He would have to decide which team stayed in.

"We need transparency under EU competition laws and will carry out the checks immediately."

Meanwhile, Jean-Alain Boumsong has threatened to quit Rangers if Alex McLeish is fired.

He said: "If Alex is not coach of Rangers I will be leaving. David Murray told me along with my mother and my agent that if I am not happy at any time the door was open to leave.

"The boss needs support and if he is forced to leave I will not be happy and I will leave myself.

"I came here because of him, he is a great person and a great coach.

"I had chances to move to England and elsewhere in Europe but I chose Rangers and it is not for the money as has been said but because of Alex McLeish. There is no-one more disappointed than me about not making the Champions League - but we are a new team and need time to gel."

Rangers will be seeded in today's UEFA Cup draw in Monaco and avoid big guns like Benfica and Basel.

But Hearts will only find out if they are included in the top group after the dust settles on last night's second qualifying round.

CAPTION(S):

BACKING BIG ECK: Boumsong, right; EURO PROBE: Abramovich
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2004
Words:365
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