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.

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What is the UEFA Europa Conference League?

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

The UEFA Europa League will now, for the most part, be for domestic cup winners. And the UEFA Europa Conference League is the minor competition primarily for those who qualify by league place though it will also include the cup winners from lower-ranked leagues.

How about a trip to Albania to take on KF Tirana? Or off to Estonia to take on FC Flora? Kuopion Palloseura (or KuPS) of Finland and FC Ararat-Armenia have also just failed to make the Europa League recently. Not to mention the Faroe Islands' Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag (luckily they are commonly known as KI!). All these teams could grace the group stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League in the future.

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, 184 teams will participate at some stage.

So who will play 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 group-stage football, only five clubs will come from the top 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.

No team will qualify automatically for the group stage, and only the five nations from the top leagues would start in the final qualifying round. As Villarreal won the Europa League, they will play in the Champions League and Spain will have no representative in the Europa Conference League. The qualifying rounds are then rebalanced.

So who will be playing in the inaugural edition of this new competition? Here the clubs who will take part from the second qualifying round onwards.

Starting in the final qualifying round: Tottenham, Union Berlin, AS Roma, Stade Rennes

Starting in the third qualifying round: Pacos de Ferreira, Rubin Kazan, Anderlecht, Kolos Kovalivka, Vitesse, Trabzonspor, LASK, Luzern, PAOK

Starting in the second qualifying round: Santa Clara, Sochi, Gent, Vorskla Poltava, Feyenoord, Sivasspor, Austria Vienna, FC Copenhagen, Aarhus, Hibernian, Aberdeen, Slovacko, Viktoria Plzen, Apollon Limassol, AEL Limassol, FC Basel, Servette, Aris Thessaloniki, AEK Athens, Partizan, Cukaricki, Vojvodina, Osijek, Rijeka, Hajduk Split, IF Elfsborg, BK Hacken, Molde, Valerenga, Rosenborg, Maccabi Tel Aviv, FC Ashdod, Hapoel Be'er Sheva, Tobol, Astana, Shakhter Karagandy, BATE Borisov, Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino, Dynamo Brest, Kesla, Qarabag, Sumgayit, CSKA Sofia, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Arda, Universitatea Craiova, FCSB, Sepsi, Rakow Czestochowa, Pogon Szczecin, Dunajska Streda, Vaduz, Olimpija Ljubljana, Upjest, F91 Dudelange, Panevezys

Who else will be involved?

Teams who lose in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa League will filter down to the Europa Conference League.

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

When does the UEFA Europa Conference League begin?

The opening matches of the first qualifying round were played on Tuesday, July 6. One bonus for teams from the top leagues is they only have to play one qualifying round (rather than the three of recent seasons in the Europa League). So their road will begin on Aug. 19 with two matches to play (one tie) rather than six.

When are the next rounds drawn?

Third qualifying round: July 19

Playoff round: August 2

Group stage: August 27

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 (the 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 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.

Where will the UEFA Europa Conference League final be played?

Teams will head to the National Arena in Tirana, Albania, on Wednesday, May 24. The stadium has a capacity of just 21,690.

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?

Group-stage fixtures will be on a Thursday, played at 4.30 p.m., 6.45 p.m. or 9 p.m. CET.

When will the European finals be played?

The new format for European finals will be:
Wednesday, May 24: UEFA Europa Conference League
Thursday, May 25: UEFA Europa League
Saturday, May 27: UEFA Champions League

Do the winners qualify for the Europa League?

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

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.

Teams from Cyprus, Switzerland and Greece just miss out and 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 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.

Who has automatically qualified and when they enter:

Third qualifying round
St Johnstone, Jablonec, Anorthosis Famagusta

Playoff round
Antwerp, Zorya Luhansk, AZ Alkmaar, Fenerbahce, Sturm Graz, Randers

Twelve teams will automatically start in the group stage, all from the top six leagues (plus the Europa Conference League title holders from the 2022-23 season).

Teams entering in the group stage
Real Sociedad, Real Betis, Leicester City, West Ham United, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen, Napoli, Lazio, Lyon, Marseille, Braga, Lokomotiv Moscow

There will 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.

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