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Last year's early exit will fire us up, maintains Gerrard

By Graham Luney

Steven Gerrard will kick-off his Rangers reign with an opening Europa League qualifier against FK Shkupi.

The former Liverpool and England skipper will take his first steps in senior management when Gers host the Macedonian minnows at Ibrox on July 12.

Shkupi, based in the capital Skopje, finished fourth in last season's Macedonian First League as they qualified for Europe for the first time.

The Light Blues will make the return trip to the 6,000-capacity Cair Stadium on July 19 as they begin what they hope will be four qualifying rounds on the way to the group stages.

The Gers suffered a humiliating defeat to Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn under former boss Pedro Caixinha last year, but avoided a repeat clash as they were kept apart as the draw for the first qualifying round was made in Nyon.

"The message to the players will be to focus on the first game," Gerrard said. "But I don't think it will be a very difficult team talk just because of what happened last year.

"The team and the squad were very complacent and went out, so the team talk is already done.

"It is very important we stay focused and show this team huge respect as they have earned the right to be here.

"Rangers themselves are a draw and a cup final for anyone. It is a shop window for their players and they will be desperate to knock us out."

Rangers, who finished 12 points adrift of champions Celtic last season, will go head-to-head with either Moldovan side Petrocub or Osijek of Croatia should they get past FK Shkupi.

Hibernian face a trip to the Faroe Islands after they landed NSI Runavik in their Europa League opener, with the first leg set for Easter Road. They will meet Greek outfit Asteras Tripolis if they progress.

Burnley have been handed a Battle of Britain tie against Aberdeen on their return to the European stage after a 51-year absence.

The Clarets, who finished seventh in last season's Premier League, were paired with the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership runners-up in the second qualifying round.

Sean Dyche's men will travel to Pittodrie on Thursday, July 26, with the Dons, who famously won the European Cup Winners' Cup under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1983, heading south a week later.

Dyche said: "Everyone knows it could have been anything, looking at the draw with the amount of different teams from different countries involved, and we get someone just up the road.

"But we've worked hard to get here and we'll look forward to the challenge it brings."

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