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UEFA Europa Conference League: All you need to know

The UEFA Europa Conference League will begin in the 2021-22 season. Find out all you need to know about the competition. 

What is the UEFA Europa Conference League?

It is the new third-tier of European competition, below the Champions League and the Europa League.

Why has UEFA Europa Conference League been created?

Originally named "Europa League 2" as a working title, the competition was created to give teams from smaller nations, who would usually not make the group stage of European competition, a greater chance.

It means at least 34 countries will be represented in the group stages of the UEFA club competitions (guaranteed number is 26 under the present format).

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said: "There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition."

Does this mean more teams will qualify for Europe?

No, the access list has simply been adjusted so teams from the smaller nations now play in this competition, and fewer clubs will go through Europa League qualifying.  

How many teams will be in the UEFA Europa Conference League?

There will be 32 teams in the group stage, and the new competition will feature 141 matches over 15 match weeks, exactly like the Europa League.

In total, 176 teams will participate at some stage. 

Who will compete in the UEFA Europa Conference League?

In simple terms, it's the teams who would have entered the Europa League at the preliminary round and first and second qualifying rounds.  

As the competition is aimed at giving smaller countries more European football, only five clubs will come from the top European leagues -- all of which will enter in the final qualifying round. The lowest-ranked team in each of these national domestic leagues will switch from the Europa League to the Conference League.

For this season, it means Wolverhampton Wanderers, Espanyol, Eintracht Frankfurt, Torino and Strasbourg would play in the Conference League rather than the Europa League.

No team would qualify automatically for the group stage, and only the five nations from the top leagues would start in the final qualifying round.

Starting in the third qualifying round this season would have been Spartak Moscow, Braga, Mariupol, Royal Antwerp, Trabzonspor, Austria Vienna and FC Thun.

The teams starting in the second qualifying round would be: Arsenal Tula, Vitoria Guimaraes, Zorya Luhansk, Gent, Malatyaspor, Sturm Graz, FC Luzern, Mlada Boleslav, FC Utrecht, Aris Thessaloniki, FK Jablonec, AZ Alkmaar, Atromitos, Hajduk Split, Brondby, Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Apollon Limassol, Universitatea Craiova, Cracovia Krakow, Malmo, Sabail, Levski Sofia, Cukaricki Belgrade, Aberdeen, FC Vitebsk, Ordabasy Shymkent, NK Osijek, Esbjerg, Maccabi Haifa, Larnaca, FCSB, Legia Warsaw, Norrkoping, Neftchi Baku, CSKA Sofia, Radnicki Nis, Kilmarnock, Dinamo Minsk, Tobol Kustanai, Haugesund, Rijeka, Midtjylland, Bnei Yehuda, Limassol, Viitorul Constanta, Lechia Gdansk, Hacken, Gabala, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Partizan Belgrade, Rangers, Shakhtior Saligorsk, Kairat Almaty and Brann Bergen.

So what do teams think of this?

The main issue is that all teams from the leagues ranked below 15th in the UEFA coefficient (based on five-year performance in Europe) are now locked out of the Europa League. 

This season Malmo, Partizan Belgrade and Rangers came through qualifying to reach the group stage, but from 2021-22 teams from Sweden, Serbia and Scotland will have no route into the Europa League (other than dropping into it from Champions League qualifying). 

The competition has received a lukewarm reception from leagues that regularly have teams who reach the Europa League group stage, who now feel they are being blocked from competing even at the second level of European football.

A more acceptable system may have been increased "trickle down" from Europa League qualifying into the UEFA Conference League, so as not to shut off that route for so many teams. 

Will teams drop down from Champions League and Europa League?

Yes, as follows: 

Second qualifying round: 20 losers from Champions League qualifying enter
Playoff round: 8 losers from Europa League third-qualifying round enter
Group stage: 10 losers from Europa League playoff round enter
Knockout stage: 8 third-placed teams from Europa League groups enter

How many teams will qualify from the group stage?

The top two teams in each of the eight groups will advance to the knockout stage.

How will the knockout rounds work?

Group winners will automatically go through to the round of 16. But there will be a preliminary knockout round (or round of 32 as we now know it) where group runners-up will play two-legged ties against third-placed teams from the Europa League groups to reach the round of 16. The competition then adopts a traditional knockout format. 

When will the games be played?

Fixtures will be on a Thursday, played at 4.30 p.m., 6.45 p.m. or 9 p.m. CET.  

When will the UEFA Europa Conference League final be played?

The new format for European finals will be:
Wednesday: UEFA Europa Conference League
Thursday: UEFA Europa League
Saturday: UEFA Champions League

Do the winners qualify for the Europa League?

Yes, just as the Europa League winners qualify for the Champions League, the UEFA Europa Conference League winners will automatically be entered into the following season's Europa League. 

Will the Europa League change?

The streamlined qualification process means only two rounds will be played. Nine teams enter in the qualifying rounds, from the mid-ranked associations, with the remaining 16 places made up of Champions League losers.

Teams entering at these stages in 2019-20 would have been:

Third qualifying round
Sparta Prague
Feyenoord
AEK Athens

Playoff round
Sporting CP
FC Oleksandriya
Standard Liege
Besiktas
Wolfsberger
FC Lugano

Eleven teams will automatically start in the group stage, all from the top six leagues, plus the Europa Conference League title holders. Ten come through qualifying and a further 10 drop in from the Champions League. It should ensure a much stronger Europa League compared to what we currently see. 

Teams entering in the group stage 2019-20 would have been:

Getafe
Sevilla
Arsenal
Manchester United
Lazio
AS Roma
Borussia Monchengladbach
VfL Wolfsburg
Rennes
CSKA Moscow
Saint-Etienne
(+Europa League 2 Titleholder)

There will also be a preliminary knockout round after the group stage (again, this is really the round of 32). The runners-up will play third-placed teams from the Champions League for a place in the round of 16.

The Europa League group winners will skip a round compared to the current format, going straight to the round of 16.

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