Not since the ending of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1999, has UEFA overseen three club competitions in the same midweek period and with the Europa Conference League joining the fray for 2021/22, it should open more possibilities for some of the more lesser nations.
Possibilities that came in a change in the format for the Europa League and with it being scaled down to just 32 clubs in the group stage, it has meant a slight difference regarding how the Champions League dropouts subsequently fit in.
Whereas before the unfortunate eight Champions League teams would automatically drop into the Round of 32, they now have to play for the right to enter the Round of 16 and in doing so, they will be paired up against the eight Europa League group runners-up (where there were previously 12)
The winners of these eight ties will join the Europa League group winners to play in the standard knockout phase from the Round of 16, until a winner is found at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium held final in Seville.
Which means with the Europa League being 16 teams lighter than before, these berths will instead be re-routed to its younger Conference League brother and eventually 32 clubs will have qualified for the inaugural edition of the tournament.
What is interesting, is the fact that no team will be granted automatic entry to the competition and all perspective entrants will need to play at least one set of play-off fixtures (home and away), while the make-up of the 32 qualifiers will come from these separate channels:
- 17 teams from the UEFA Europa Conference League main path.
- 5 teams from the UEFA Europa Conference League champions path.
- 10 teams eliminated in the UEFA Europa League play-offs.
There is an element of safety net involved, as 10 clubs will be fortunate enough to be given a second life in terms of their European exploits and just like how the drop down format is now in place in the Europa League, the same process will be in place for the Conference League.
This means that a third place finish in the Europa League group phase, will see those eight teams paired with the eight that finished second in the Conference League and from here we will then find out the other half of the teams that will play in the Round of 16.
Ultimately, it means there is far more fluidity between the three competitions and with lower ranked nations being given more berths in the new Conference League, as many as 34 (out of a possible 55) will be soon represented across the trio of UEFA tournaments.
At a time when football is preaching about inclusivity, this seems like the ideal vehicle to display that and with more clubs being afforded the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage, it also means prize money will funnel down into all directions of the continent.
Something that can only be for the good of the game as a whole and although the talk of a European Super League rumbles on in the background with some form of discontent, the introduction of UEFA’s Europa Conference League has thankfully been met with near universal praise.
Written by Dan Tracey