Maccabi Haifa to Face Stiff Competition in Champions League

Israel's Maccabi Haifa soccer team, fresh off a thrilling 3-3 draw with Austria's Sturm Graz, will face tough competition in the next round of soccer's Champions League. At a draw Thursday in Monaco, it was determined that Haifa will face English powerhouse Manchester United, 2001 finalists Bayern Leverkusen and Greek champion Olympiakos. United has taken the championship twice, most recently in 1999.

The first round of games will take place on September 18.

Also Thursday, European soccer's ruling body, UEFA, ruled that Haifa's home games will be held in Cyprus, at Nicosia's GSP stadium. Haifa had been trying to persuade UEFA to let the team hold its home matches at the national stadium in Ramat Gan, the only stadium in Israel worthy of hosting such prestigious games. GSP stadium is the Cyprus's most modern stadium and can seat 20,000.

In Thursday's draw, 32 teams were divided into four houses based upon their rankings, which in UEFA terminology is called the co-efficient. The co-efficient is determined according to each club's performance over the past five seasons and reflects very clearly the strength of each side.

Real Madrid, which has won the European Cup in three out of the past five seasons, is top of the rankings with a co-efficient of 147.223, while Manchester United has a co-efficient of 125.729. In comparison, Haifa's co-efficient is 18.666.

The top two teams in each group will go up to the next stage, with the draw held on November 15 in Geneva. The third place team will enter the third round of the UEFA cup, while the fourth place team will pack its bags and head home.