Europa Conference League Explained: What is it + Who Qualifies for it?

Just when you thought football’s calendar was full enough without the small matter of a global pandemic to contend with, UEFA will be throwing another ingredient into the mix from the 2021-22 season with another new European competition, the Europa Conference League (UECL).

Here, we’ll look at the setup of the Europa Conference League, pros, cons, and much more.

Who qualifies for the Europa Conference League from England? Does the Carabao Cup winner qualify for the Europa Conference League? Exactly when does the new European competition start during 2021-22? And what does the Europa Conference League winner get? All of these questions and more will be answered below:

What is the Europa Conference League?

The Europa Conference League will essentially be UEFA’s third tier of European competition, below both the Champions League and Europa League.

It was first announced in December 2018, and its introduction will mark the first time UEFA will stage three different club competitions over the course of one season since 1998-99; the final year of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

When does the Europa Conference League Start?

As mentioned at the start, the competition is scheduled to begin in the 2021-22 season, and will run throughout the 2021-2024 cycle at least.

Qualifying rounds will take place during July and August 2021, with the competition proper running from September 2021 through to the final in May 2022.

Who Qualifies for the Europa Conference League?

Europa Conference League – England Qualifiers

England will have one representative in the Europa Conference League: Carabao Cup winner of the previous season.

The team who wins the EFL Cup will qualify for the following year’s UECL, entering at the play-off phase, the round before the group stages.

But should that team qualify for Europe through their final position in the Premier League – as has been the case every since 2013 – then the team who finishes sixth in the top-flight (or seventh if a top-six team also wins the FA Cup) will represent England in the UECL play-offs.

Europa Conference League – Qualifiers From the Rest of Europe

In total, 184 teams from all 55 UEFA members will enter the Europa Conference League. England are one of six countries to be represented by a single club in the UECL, along with Spain, Germany, Italy, France and Liechtenstein.

Teams knocked out of the Europa League as far as the group stages will also join the competition, but below, you’ll find how many teams from each country will directly qualify straight into the UECL, and the primary route by which they will enter the tournament:

CountryNumber of Teams in UECLHow Do They Qualify?
Spain16th in La Liga
England1Carabao Cup Winners
Germany16th in Bundesliga
Italy16th in Serie A
France15th in Ligue 1
Liechtenstein1Winner of Liechtenstein Cup
Portugal24th and 5th in Primeira Liga
Russia23rd and 4th in Russian Premier League
Belgium2Two from Belgian First Division A play-offs
Ukraine23rd and 4th in Ukrainian Premier League
Netherlands23rd in Eredivisie
Winner of play-offs between 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th in Eredivisie
Turkey23rd and 4th in Süper Lig
Austria23rd in Austrian Football Bundesliga
Winner of end-of-season Europa Conference League play-offs
Denmark23rd in Danish Superliga
Winner of end-of-season Europa Conference League play-offs
Scotland23rd and 4th in Scottish Premiership
Czech Republic23rd and 4th in Czech First League
Estonia2Winner of Estonian Cup
2nd in Meistriliiga
Kosovo2Winner of Kosovar Cup
2nd in Football Superleague of Kosovo
Faroe Islands2Winner of Faroe Islands Cup
2nd in Faroe Islands Premier League
Andorra2Winner of Copa Constitució
2nd in Primera Divisió
San Marino2Winner of Coppa Titano
2nd in Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio
Cyprus3Winner of Cypriot Cup
2nd and 3rd in Cypriot First Division
Switzerland3Winner of Swiss Cup
2nd and 3rd in Swiss Super League
Greece3Winner of Greek Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Super League Greece
Serbia3Winner of Serbian Cup
2nd and 3rd in Serbian SuperLiga
Croatia3Winner of Croatian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Croatian First Football League
Sweden3Winner of Svenska Cupen
2nd and 3rd in Allsvenskan
Norway3Winner of Norwegian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Eliteserien
Israel3Winner of Israel State Cup
2nd and 3rd in Israeli Premier League
Kazakhstan3Winner of Kazakhstan Cup
2nd and 3rd in Kazakhstan Premier League
Belarus3Winner of Belarusian Cup
2nd and 3rd in Belarusian Premier League
Azerbaijan3Winner of Azerbaijan Cup
2nd and 3rd in Azerbaijan Premier League
Bulgaria3Winner of Bulgarian Cup
2nd and 3rd in First Professional Football League
Romania3Winner of Cupa României
2nd and 3rd in Liga I
Poland3Winner of Polish Cup
2nd and 3rd in Ekstraklasa
Slovakia3Winner of Slovak Cup
2nd and 3rd in Slovak First Football League
Slovenia3Winner of Slovenian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Slovenian PrvaLiga
Hungary3Winner of Magyar Kupa
2nd and 3rd in Nemzeti Bajnokság I
Luxembourg3Winner of Luxembourg Cup
2nd and 3rd in Luxembourg National Division
Lithuania3Winner of Lithuanian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in A Lyga
Armenia3Winner of Armenian Cup
2nd and 3rd in Armenian Premier League
Latvia3Winner of Latvian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Latvian Higher League
Albania3Winner of Albanian Cup
2nd and 3rd in Kategoria Superiore
North Macedonia3Winner of Macedonian Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Macedonian First League
Bosnia and Herzegovina3Winner of Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Cup
2nd and 3rd in Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Moldova3Winner of Moldovan Cup
2nd and 3rd in Moldovan National Division
Republic of Ireland3Winner of FAI Cup
2nd and 3rd in League of Ireland Premier Division
Finland3Winner of Finnish Cup
2nd and 3rd in Veikkausliiga
Georgia3Winner of Georgian Cup
2nd and 3rd in Erovnuli Liga
Malta3Winner of Maltese FA Trophy
2nd and 3rd in Maltese Premier League
Iceland3Winner of Icelandic Cup
2nd and 3rd in Úrvalsdeild
Wales3Winner of Welsh Cup
2nd and 3rd in Cymru Premier
Northern Ireland3Winner of Irish Cup
2nd and 3rd in NIFL Premiership
Gibraltar3Winner of Rock Cup
2nd and 3rd in Gibraltar National LeagueMontenegro3Winner of Montenegrin Cup
2nd and 3rd in Montenegrin First League

UEFA Europa Conference League Format

Just like in the Champions League, qualification to the UECL will be split into a ‘Champions Path’ and a ‘League Path’. Though, the Champions Path will be comprised of teams who were knocked out of Champions League qualifiers.

There are three qualifying rounds and a play-off round before eventually reaching the group stages. This phase will be contested by 32 teams (eight groups of four), broken down as follows:

  • 17 teams from the Europa Conference League main path (i.e. winners from the play-off round for non-champions).
  • 5 teams from the Europa Conference League (i.e. winners from the play-off round for champions).
  • 10 teams eliminated in the Europa League play-offs.

The eight group winners automatically qualify for the round of 16, with a preliminary knockout round stage first played between the eight runners-up and the eight teams who finished third in the Europa League groups.

Then comes the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finally the final, scheduled for May.

Like the Europa League, matches will typically take place on Thursdays, though may also be held on Tuesdays or Wednesdays in exceptional circumstances. So, if you’re looking to avoid that endless Thursday-Sunday treadmill in the Europa Conference League, English teams should think again.

As well as the introduction of the Europa Conference League, the number of teams in the Europa League group stages has been cut from 48 to 32.

What Does the Europa Conference League Winner Get?

The winners of the UECL qualify for the following season’s Europa League group stages.

Which makes sense, given that the initial name for the UECL was the ‘Europa League 2’. Catchy.

Why Was the UECL Created?

According to UEFA, the new competition will guarantee that at least 34 of its members are represented in the group stages of at least one of the three European competitions.

For context, just 29 per cent of UEFA’s members were represented in the 2019/20 Champions League group stage, with roughly 60 per cent of those from as few as five countries.

“The new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before,” UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin has said.

“There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages.”

New European Competition: Pros and Cons

The more widespread representation of Europe in European competition certainly feels advantageous; whether or not it will be low on quality is another matter, of course.

Indeed some fear that the Europa Conference League will, in fact, tighten the grip of the continent’s elite on the Champions League. If fewer clubs are in the Europa League, which is a pathway to the top table, for instance, the chances of one of the continent’s juggernauts missing out are reduced.

The impact of a loss of revenue from so-called ‘smaller’ nations for having fewer representatives in the Champions League or Europa League could also prove a Meanwhile, the new three-tier system has led to some to believe that a long-mooted European Super League may one day adopt a similar format.

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