When we think of European football, we think of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. However, the newly-conceived UEFA Europa Conference League is the newest European competition, which offers a taste of continental football to lower-ranked teams from across the continent.

Amidst the furor surrounding the European Super League, UEFA announced provisions for all its European competitions. The Europa League will now be a 32-team tournament instead of 48, and thus, the newly-formed ECL offers continental football to teams outside of the spectrum of Europe’s elite club tournaments.

What is the Europa Conference League?

The UEFA Europa Conference League is the new third-tier continental competition in the European club football system, after the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. It will run alongside the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, starting from the 2021-22 campaign.

The initial idea of a third-tier European competition was spoken about in 2015 but it was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2018. As such, the new tournament now ensures that more clubs find representation in Europe’s continental competitions.

The Europa Conference League is expected to start in the 2021-22 season and run on through the 2021–2024 cycle, at the very least.

“We want to make our competitions more inclusive – to give clubs and fans the chance to dream and compete for European honours,” said UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin at the unveiling of the trophy.

“This is why we created the UEFA Europa Conference League. We have 55 national associations who make up UEFA, and it is important to give clubs from as many federations as possible, the chance to prolong their European campaigns for as long as possible,” he added.

How do you qualify for the Europa Conference League?

The UEFA Europa Conference League will operate almost on similar lines as the UCL. The first season will begin with qualifying rounds in July, before the competition officially gets underway in September.

As many as 184 teams will participate in the three initial qualifying rounds over the summer. At least one club from each of the 55 associations and 46 clubs transferring from either the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League will be among the 184 contesting teams.

At the end of the qualifiers, a play-off round will be played wherein paths will be split into a main path, and a champions path for those clubs transferring from the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

No teams can qualify directly for the group stage, with the 32 teams consisting of 17 teams from the main path, five from the champions path and 10 teams who were eliminated in the UEL play-offs.

What is the format of the UEFA Europa Conference League?

The format of the ECL is similar to that of the Champions League. There will be eight groups of four teams, followed by knockout round play-offs, the round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

In order to qualify for the knockout stages automatically, a team must win the group - which is initially made of four each. The second place team in each group will enter a qualifying round for the knockout stage, where they will play against the third-placed teams from the Europa League groups. The winners of those matches will enter the last-16 of the Europa Conference League. In total, there will be eight groups - 32 teams - before the round of 16 begins.

The knockout matches will be played over two legs, and as with other UEFA competitions, the away goal rule will apply in these fixtures

The ECL will feature 141 matches over 15 match weeks, and will be played on Thursdays, just as the Europa League.

UEFA Europa Conference League 2021/22 schedule
Match type Date
First qualifying round July 8 and July 15
Second qualifying round July 22 and July 29
Third qualifying round August 5 and August 12
Play-offs August 19 and August 26
Group stage September 16 and September 30, October 21, November 4 and November 25, December 9
Knockout round play-offs February 17 and February 24
Round of 16 March 10 and March 17
Quarter-finals April 7 and April 14
Semi-finals April 28 and May 5
Final May 25

Which teams have qualified for the Europa Conference League?

Non-champion sides from UEFA-elected nations below 15th in the rankings are ineligible to play in the Europa League, but  can go straight into the Europa Conference League.

Play-off teams: Tottenham Hotspur, Rennes, AS Roma, Union Berlin, Celta Vigo

Third round teams: Anderlecht, Kolos Kovalika, LASK, Pacos de Ferreira, Rubin Kazan, Trabzonspor, Vitesse Arnhem

Second round teams (selected): Aberdeen, AEK Athens, FC Basel, CSKA Sofia, Feyenoord, Gent, Hajduk Split, Hibernian, Partizan Belgrade, Qarabag, Rosenborg, Steaua Bucharest

Who qualifies for the Europa Conference League from England?

Only one team from England can qualify for the Europa Conference League. The place was initially reserved for the EFL Cup winners but now it will go to the team which finished seventh in the Premier League campaign. Manchester City’s successful League Cup defence was a boon for Tottenham Hotspur but they still earned a place in the third tier-European tournament.

What do you get for winning the Europa Conference League?

Apart from European silverware, the team winning the final of the UEFA Europa Conference League will secure automatic qualification to the Europa League' group stage next season. It is along the same lines of a Europa League winner earning the opportunity to play in the UEFA Champions League, European club football’s holy grail.

Featured photo: Twitter / UEFA