What is the Europa Conference League?
A new competition will soon enter the football calendar, the UEFA Europa Conference League.
UEFA has announced all the details of what will become the third European competition.
While some supporters will wonder if another tournament is really necessary in an already busy schedule, others will see it as a chance for their team to mark Europe.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Europa Conference League.
What is the Europa Conference League?
The UEFA Europa Conference League is a new continental competition set to start from the 2021/22 football season.
In short UECL, the competition will also be called the UEFA Conference League.
The Europa Conference League will be UEFA’s third most prestigious competition.
The first place will be retained by the Champions League and the existing Europa League will continue to represent the second tier competition.
The Europa Conference League will be next on the list, with UEFA saying in a statement that “the new competition aims to give more clubs in more countries a chance to participate in European football”.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin insisted on “widespread demand” for a third competition.
He wants the Europa Conference League to ensure that a greater variety of countries are represented in the continental game.
Ceferin said: “It makes UEFA club competitions more inclusive than ever. More matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages.
“There was widespread demand from all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competitions.
“This was achieved with a strategic approach and in line with UEFA’s goal of having both more quality and more inclusiveness in our club competitions.”
The new European club tournament was approved in 2018 and the final decision came after a UEFA meeting in Dublin.
To justify the creation of UECL, UEFA said that a specific format will ensure that at least 34 nations in Europe will have the chance to play in the group stages and experience continental football.
When will the Europa League Conference start?
The qualifying and play-off rounds for the UECL will take place from July 8, 2021 and will continue until August 26.
The first official matches of the group stage of the Europa Conference Conference tournament are scheduled from September 16.
The UECL groups will be decided in the draw on August 27 after the end of all qualifying rounds.
The first final of the third European competition is scheduled to be played on May 25, 2022, with confirmation from Tirana, Albania.
Thursdays are already a key day in the football calendar because this is where the Europa League matches are played.
UECL matches will also be played on Thursdays, although some of them will have kick-off times earlier than Europa League competitions to avoid a full clash.
That leaves Tuesday and Wednesday clear for Champions League games, although if there are schedule conflicts some UECL games could also be played on these days.
What is the format of the Europa Conference League?
There are three qualifying rounds and one play-off round before the start of the main tournament.
Then 32 teams will play in the group stage of the UEFA Conference League.
The 32 is made up of 22 teams that progressed through the Europa Conference League qualification process and 10 teams that entered the tournament after losing in the Europa League play-offs.
Previously, elimination at this point would have put an early end to these teams’ continental campaigns. Now they still have a chance to play in a European group stage via UECL.
Like the Champions League, the UECL will include 32 teams divided into eight groups of four.
Where the UECL format differs slightly is how teams progress to the round of 16.
The eight group winners automatically advance to the Europa Conference League the last 16, as is the case in the Champions League, while teams that end their group campaign in third or fourth place are immediately eliminated.
However, teams that finish second face another hurdle if they are to pass.
They have to play in a play-off round against the eight teams that finished third in their Europa League groups, who get a lifeline by joining the UEFA Conference League.
The eight teams that come out of this UECL play-off round join the eight group winners in the last 16.
From there, a knockout stage will follow with the last 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
The winning UEFA Europa Conference League team gain direct entry into the Europa League group stage of the following season, unless they have qualified for the Champions League by some other method.
How do you qualify for the Europa Conference League?
The top five nations according to the UEFA country coefficients are Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France.
These countries will initially have one representative each in the UECL, although other teams from the best nations may participate in the competition depending on their performance at different stages of the Europa League.
Two teams from each of the countries ranked sixth to 15th will obtain a place in the UECL.
This includes Portugal, Russia, Belgium, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, Denmark, Scotland and the Czech Republic.
There are three places available for all other UEFA nations except Liechtenstein (1), Estonia, San Marino, Kosovo, Faroe Islands and Andorra (both).
Differences will exist in the way each nation allocates its squads in the Europa League.
In England, the winners of the EFL Cup, currently known as the Carabao Cup, will have access to the UECL play-off round, unless they have otherwise qualified for the Champions League or the Europa League.
If this team has already reached a higher competition, the UECL place goes to the team ranked sixth or seventh in the premier league, depending on whether one of the best teams won the FA Cup.
It should be easier in the best nations where there is only one major national cup competition.
In Spain, Germany and Italy, the team finishing sixth in most cases enters UECL, while in League 1 it is the team classified fifth which obtains the place in the play-off round of the UECL.
Twenty teams that lose in the first qualifying round and preliminary round of the Champions League will automatically advance to UECL qualification upon entering the tournament.
Eight teams that lose in the Europa League third qualifying round also find themselves subsequently in the UECL process, which includes a champions path and a main path.
Is the Europa Conference League the same as the European Super League?
No, the Europa Conference League is not the same as the European Super League.
However, the proposed Super League collapsed just 48 hours after it was announced to launch in April 2021.
The current Champions League format is officially in place until 2024 and UECL is an officially sanctioned competition by UEFA that fits into the current football calendar.
The third European competition will have no impact on the progress of the Europa League and the Champions League and will take place alongside them.
The only change in either of these competitions will be 32 instead of the current 48 teams playing in the Europa League group stage, ensuring the same format of eight groups of four in all three competitions.
What is the European Cup Winners’ Cup?
This is not the first time that UEFA has organized three continental competitions in a season.
The European Cup Winners ‘Cup – known as the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup – previously ran from 1960 until its abolition in 1999.
This tournament ran alongside the Champions League / European Cup and the UEFA Cup, later known as the Europa League.
Fiorentina were the first to win the competition in 1961, beating Rangers in the only final over two sets.
Atletico Madrid won the second competition, beating defending champions Fiorentina in the final.
The final final of the competition saw Lazio defeat Mallorca 2-1 at Villa Park in England on May 19, 1999.
Barcelona achieved significant success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, winning the trophy four times in 1979, 1982, 1989 and 1997. They made six finals in total, losing to Slovan Bratislava (1969) and Male Utd (1991).
Barca were the only team to win it more than twice.
The tournament began to decline in popularity in the 1990s before being abolished.
One argument was that the growth of the Champions League has diminished the quality and Interthe highest levels of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup because more teams from each of the top leagues have become eligible to qualify for the top competition instead of being limited to champions.
Once the tournament was abolished, the winners of the national cups began to enter an enlarged UEFA Cup / Europa League.
Until now, with the start of UECL, the Europa League was the only other major UEFA tournament outside of the Champions League.