Liverpool will be allowed to defend its Champions League soccer title, but will have to begin play in the first qualifying round.

European soccer's governing body announced the decision yesterday after the 14-member executive committee agreed to make an exception for the five-time European champion. Liverpool, which beat AC Milan on penalty kicks in the final in Istanbul last month, had failed to earn an automatic spot in next season's tournament.

Under UEFA's rules, the champion didn't automatically qualify. The top four teams in England's Premier League qualify, and Liverpool finished fifth. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton qualified automatically. UEFA decided, from now on, the champion will have the right to defend the title. . . .

Ryan Babel scored one goal and set up another as the host Netherlands beat Japan, 2-1, on the first day of the World Youth Championship. Benin and Australia played to a 1-1 tie. Today Argentina faces Freddy Adu and the United States in a Group D matchup.

* PRO FOOTBALL: The New Orleans Saints returned to full strength at cornerback when Fakhir Brown ended his holdout and reported for the first day of a two-day mandatory mini-camp. Brown, who started the final 10 games last season, skipped 13 voluntary sessions because he wants a new contract.

* AUTO RACING: Scott Speed became the first American since 1993 to drive a Formula One car when he tested for the Red Bull Racing team at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Speed, 22, participated in both practice sessions in a third Red Bull car that is sent out onto the track for testing purposes.

* TENNIS: Defending champion Andy Roddick struggled before reaching the semifinals at the Queen's tournament in London, while top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt was sent home by Ivo Karlovic. Third-seeded Tim Henman also lost, leaving Roddick the clear favorite at the Wimbledon tuneup. The second-seeded Roddick edged Sebastien Grosjean of France, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

* CYCLING: Lance Armstrong finished back in the pack during the fifth stage of the Dauphine Libere race in France to drop from second to fourth in the overall standings. Fellow American Levi Leipheimer lost the leader's jersey after a crash.

* COLLEGE BASKETBALL: West Virginia star Kevin Pittsnogle is expected to pull out of the NBA draft. He planned to leave the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago, according to Mountaineers Coach John Beilein. . . . Nick Olivero (W.T. Woodson) and Evin Yarbrough (Lake Braddock) were among seven players who committed to the Catholic men's team. Olivero, the Liberty District player of the year, also will play football.

-- From News Services and Staff Reports