Soccer / Haifa Eyes Up Kazakh Peak

Maccabi Haifa can already see the UEFA Champions League group stage off in the distance, but first it will have to climb the "white mountain," the literal translation of Aktobe, the Kazakh champion it will face in its third-round qualifier, after Friday's draw.

Before they pack their trainers for the Central Asian steppes, however, the Men in Green will have to prevail over Glentoran this week. Haifa leads 6-0 after destroying the Northern Irish squad in their first leg match Wednesday at home. For its part, Aktobe must capitalize on its 4-0 lead over Iceland's Hafnarfjordur if it hopes to advance.

The Kazakhs' uncontested king is defender and captain Samat Smakov, who can whip up a withering offensive attack with a single well-placed pass. "It's clear Aktobe will treat Haifa with tremendous respect," one Kazakh reporter said. "Not only will there not be an empty seat, but another 12,000 or 13,000 people will be wandering around outside the stadium looking for tickets." Aktobe Central Stadium holds 13,000 fans.

Also Friday, Hapoel Tel Aviv drew Sweden's IFK Goteborg as its opponent in the third qualifying round of the Europa League (formerly known as the UEFA Cup).

Bnei Yehuda will meet the winner between Pacos of Portugal and Moldova's Zimbru Chisinau. Maccabi Netanya will face Galatasaray of Turkey.