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Gnoukouri a rising star at Inter

Inter Milan
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By ESPN Staff

CONCACAF to launch its own Champions League

MIAMI -- Soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean governing body is launching its own Champions League to mirror Europe's.

The 24-team competition will start in August and will replace the CONCACAF Champions Cup, which has determined the region's champion since 1962 and will end after 2008.

"This is a project we've been working on for more than a year," CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer said at a news conference Monday. "We believe this event will bring exciting football to our region."

The United States and Mexico will have four teams each in the tournament, and the Caribbean region three, along with two each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. One team each will come from Belize, Canada, Belize and Nicaragua.

Eight teams will be seeded directly to the first round: two each from the United States and Mexico, and one apiece from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The other 16 will play home-and-home series in a preliminary round in late August and early September.

Four groups of four teams will contest the first round in September and October, with the top two in each group advancing to the quarterfinals in February 2009. The semifinals will start the following month, and the finals will be played in April. The winner earns a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Mexico still will send teams to the Copa Libertadores, South America's club championship, as invited guests.