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Celtic still the team to beat in Scotland Add to ...

With Celtic winning the Scottish Premier League by 17 points, last season's title race was far from close. But if this summer is any indication, expect Rangers to re-ignite the Old Firm rivalry.

While Celtic lost several key players - including Swedish international forward Henrik Larsson - the blue side of Glasgow retooled, signing five internationals.

As the season begins Saturday, the rest of the league will either focus on third place or avoiding relegation.

"Rangers have been revitalized, they've changed their team around considerably, they've got fresher people in and a new impetus," Celtic manager Martin O'Neill said.

"But we have to look after ourselves. Determination and desire will be the important factors throughout the season."

Larsson, who scored 242 goals in seven years with Celtic, left for Barcelona. Celtic was linked with former FIFA player of the year Rivaldo and Brazilian countryman Marcio Amoroso but ended up signing Senegal international striker Henri Camara on loan from Wolves.

"Losing Henrik last season was a blow, so it will be good for Henri to come in," O'Neill said. "Obviously he's not a replacement for Henrik, but hopefully he'll be able to score as many goals as possible this season to help the club."

Johan Mjallby also went to Spain, joining newly promoted Levante. Midfielder Liam Miller signed with Manchester United, while another promising player, Shaun Maloney, has a long-term knee injury.

This while Rangers manager Alex McLeish added French defender Jean Alain Boumsong, Croatian forward Dado Prso, Spanish forward Nacho Novo, Scottish midfielder Alex Rae, Trinidad and Tobago defender Marvin Andrews and Serbia and Montenegro midfielder Dragan Mladenovic.

Dutch twins Frank and Ronald de Boer, and Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta were either released or sold.

McLeish said he was happy with Rangers' pre-season.

"I feel we are ready for the rigours ahead," said McLeish, whose team lost all five league and cup games against Celtic last season.

"The results have been good, and I don't think anyone can be critical of anything we have done so far. You can't get perfection in preseason, that's impossible, but I've been pretty pleased with the buildup."

Canadians in the league include Calgary defender Kevin McKenna (Hearts), defender Paul Fenwick of St. Catharines, Ont., (Hibernian), Toronto midfielder Ryan Dodds (Kilmarnock) and defender-midfielder Richard Hastings of Prince George, B.C. (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).

In games Saturday: it's Aberdeen versus Rangers, Dundee versus Hearts, Dunfermline versus Dundee United, Hibernian versus Kilmarnock, and Livingston versus Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Celtic begins defence of its title Sunday at home against Motherwell.

Hearts finished a distant third last season, although they had a 15-point cushion over Dunfermline Athletic. The Edinburgh club's pre-season has been overshadowed by a plan to sell Tynecastle Stadium.

Dunfermline reached the Scottish Cup final, losing to Celtic but still earned a place in the UEFA Cup. There was just a seven-point gap between fifth-place Dundee United and 10th-place Kilmarnock. Livingston, which was ninth, will also play in Europe's second-tier club competition after winning the League Cup.

Aberdeen, the last team other than Celtic or Rangers to win the league, finished second-last, eight points ahead of Partick Thistle. Aberdeen won the title in 1985.

Thistle was relegated and replaced in the top flight by Inverness Caledonian Thistle, only after Caley agreed to ground share with Aberdeen. Caley's stadium didn't have the required 10,000 seats.

"We have to pay a lot of money in rent to Aberdeen as part of the deal to stay in the Premier League, so we're handicapped in that respect," Inverness manager John Robertson said. "But the players are really determined and looking to prove everyone wrong."

Despite promotion and reaching the Scottish Cup semi-finals, Robertson had a tough time attracting players. Inverness is the most northern Scottish team in the Premier League, and the round-trip car journey to Aberdeen takes about 5 1/2 hours.

"It really is a beautiful place to live," Robertson said. "And that's how we try to encourage players to get up here."

 

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