Maccabi Haifa to Face Bayern and Juventus in Champions League Group Stage

European soccer powerhouses set to visit Israel in coming months to play against Israeli champion.

Israeli soccer champion Maccabi Haifa was drawn on Thursday to face Bayern Munich, Juventus and Girondins Bordeaux in the group stage of the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League.

The Greens qualified for the group stage after a 5-1 aggregate victory over Austria's Red Bull Salzburg in the final qualification round of the tournament.

As two of Europe's soccer powerhouses, Bayern and Juventus pose a particularly daunting challenge for Haifa.

Bayern, who finished in the unfamiliar second place in the German Bundesliga last season, have been European champions four times, most recently in 2001. Juventus, based in the northern Italian town of Turin, have been European champions twice. Bordeaux, the reigning French champions, are the third seed in the group.

Maccabi's first match will be against Bayern at home at Ramat Gan Stadium on September 15. Fixtures will continue every two or three weeks until December 8 and 9.

The top two teams from each of the eight groups will progress to the knockout stage of the tournament beginning December 18, while those finishing third will enter the second-tier UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

This is the Greens' second appearance in the group stage of the Champions League.

The first time was in 2002, although they played all their home matches in nearby Cyprus after UEFA banned Israel from hosting international matches because of the security situation in the country at the time. The Greens' failed to qualify for the next stage, but did cause the upset of the tournament when they beat Manchester United 3-0.

The only other Israeli team to have made the group stage was Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004. Coincidentally, Tel Aviv was also drawn against Bayern and Juventus.