The Champions League qualification format has been changed (for the 2009-2012 period), the Champions League final has been shifted to a Saturday (thank god), the Intertoto Cup has been abolished (will Newcastle ever play in Europe again?) and the Uefa Cup has been revamped.
For all the bluster against Platini, the first major change he’d been pushing for has come to pass. Let’s look at the details:
Champions League Qualification
22 teams will qualify directly for the UEFA Champions League group stage instead of 16. The six additional clubs will be the third-placed sides from the associations ranked between 1 and 3 in the ranking list, and the champions of countries ranked from 10 to 12.
10 teams will qualify through a double qualifying route — one is reserved for the champions of the associations ranked from 13 to 53, with the exception of Liechtenstein. Five clubs will qualify via this route. The other path is reserved for the non-champions of associations rated between 1 and 15.
The group stages / knock rounds won’t change, although the first knockout round (round of 16) will be split over four weeks instead of two (more TV revenue?) using dates reserved for the Uefa club competitions in February and March.
Real impact of the changes? At the top level, it means that ‘settling’ for 4th in the Premier League will probably book you a difficult qualification route against tougher teams than before. At the other end, it will give teams from smaller nations a better shot at participating in the Champions League.
There are also financial restructuring – there will be more coverage of the 3rd qualifying round, and extra time for the round of 16 allows for better TV coverage. Moving the final to Saturday is also a money-making exercise – albeit a great decision that allows more people to watch the game. Add to it the potential expansion of the base of participants and there are ‘democratic’ as well as monetary benefits to Uefa.
Uefa Cup Format Changes
The UEFA Cup between 2009 and 2012 will feature 48 sides, split into 12 groups of four; the top two teams in each group will qualify for the knockout phase and be joined by the eight clubs that finish the group stage of the UEFA Champions League in third place.
The knockout stage, with 32 sides and four rounds, will lead to the final, played in a single match at a neutral venue. The first round — currently knockout — will become part of the qualifying phase.
Simplification, at last!
Only the title-holders will qualify directly for the UEFA Cup group stage, with all other clubs having to qualify. The qualifying process will consist of four rounds, with 37 additional slots compared to the present situation, to accommodate sides that currently qualify for the UEFA Intertoto Cup (from the associations ranked 9 to 15 and 22 to 51, except Liechtenstein). Losing teams in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round and third qualifying round will move into the UEFA Cup fourth qualifying round and group phase respectively.
UEFA Intertoto Cup abolished
Under the format decisions, the UEFA Intertoto Cup, UEFA’s summer competition which has provided places in the UEFA Cup, will be abolished. No changes have been made to the format of the UEFA Super Cup.
For more information, see this press release (PDF) by Uefa.com, explains things quite well.