Times Staff Writer

1 Two of the biggest games of the season will take place in England this week -- the UEFA Cup final today at the City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester and the F.A. Cup final Saturday at Wembley in London.

Today's game pits Rangers of Scotland against Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia (11:30 a.m., FSC, FSE), and Tuesday the respective coaches were arguing about just which team should be considered the favorite.

Rangers Coach Walter Smith said Zenit should be because of the way it dismantled German champion Bayern Munich in the semifinals.

"Their 1-1 draw in Munich was terrific, the 4-0 win at home was exceptional and was probably one of the best results in European competition this season," Smith said.

"For Zenit to beat them in that manner makes them favorites. . . . It will be a very tough night for us."

Zenit St. Petersburg's Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, who will have to make do without striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, the Cups' leading goal scorer, because of a suspension, argued that Rangers has had equally impressive results.

"You don't beat the teams that Rangers have beaten and come into the final of the UEFA Cup without a balanced team that can play football," he said.

Oddly enough, the Scottish club's only success in European competition was achieved against another Russian team, 36 years ago in Munich, when Rangers defeated Dynamo Moscow in the final of the now defunct European Cup Winner's Cup.

Zenit St. Petersburg is in its first European final.

2 The pairings for the Mexican league playoffs have been set, with the title race now down to eight teams.

Here's the way they will match up in the first round:

Chivas de Guadalajara vs. Monterrey.

Santos Laguna vs. Necaxa.

Cruz Azul vs. Jaguares Chiapas.

San Luis vs. Toluca.

3 It was MLS Commissioner Don Garber who yanked the Earthquakes out of San Jose a couple of years ago and it was Don Garber who revived the Earthquakes this year.

That made things interesting when Garber attended San Jose's home game over the weekend.

"Understandably, some fans were not quite sure what to do when they saw me at the game," Garber said in his latest blog, "but most were just ecstatic to have the team back home."

4 If Cuauhtemoc Blanco can throw a ball as well as he can kick one, he might have a new career ahead of him.

The former Mexico national team striker, now playing in MLS for the Chicago Fire, will toss out the ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field today before the Chicago Cubs' game against San Diego.

5 England's F.A. Cup final Saturday at Wembley in London will pit Portsmouth against Cardiff City, with history in the making no matter which team prevails.

Either Cardiff will become the first non-English team to win the trophy in 81 years -- since the Welsh club last achieved the feat in 1927, in fact -- or Portsmouth will take home the Cup for the first time since 1939.

On an individual level, this could be a Portsmouth striker Nwankwo Kanu's last hurrah. Kanu, 31, is the most decorated African player in history (see chart), and the Nigerian is surprised to even have the chance to win another medal.

"To be in the final again is a dream," Kanu said. "I am proud of my medals, but it is usually when you play in the biggest teams that you get them. Winning the F.A. Cup with Arsenal is expected, but nobody expects it at Portsmouth."

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