As I mentioned last week, we’re going to take a look at the UEFA Cup, this companion competition to the Champions League. The UEFA Cup evolved from the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was founded in 1955, two weeks after the founding of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.
The original tournament lasted three years, with matches timed to coincide with trade fairs and involved teams from Barcelona, Basle, Birmingham, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Lausanne, Leipzig, London, Milan and Zagreb. Barcelona, using players purely from FC Barcelona, beat a London representative side 8-2 on aggregate in the final.
In 1972 the tournament was renamed the UEFA Cup to reflect that the competition was now run by UEFA and no longer associated with the trade fairs. Tottenham Hotspur were the initial winners of the renamed competition.
The current UEFA Cup tournament is open to teams finishing in leading positions behind the champions in their domestic top flights, the winners of national cup competitions, the winners of the League Cup in certain countries, the eleven winners of the final matches in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, and three clubs from UEFA’s Fair Play League.
The tournament starts with three knockout qualifying rounds held in July and August. Participants from associations ranked 18 and lower enter the first qualifying round, and participants from associations ranked 9-18 join them in the second qualifying round. In addition, three places in the first qualifying round are reserved for the Fair Play winners, and eleven places in the second qualifying round are reserved for the UEFA Intertoto Cup winners.
The tournament used to be a straight knockout competition but the format was changed in 2004/05, however, when for the first time a group stage was introduced. Winners of the qualifying rounds join teams from the associations ranked 1-13 in the first knockout round. In addition, losers in the third qualifying round of the Champions League also enter this round, and another place is reserved for the UEFA Cup title-holders. There are 80 teams total in this round.
After the first knockout round, the 40 survivors enter a group phase, with the clubs being drawn into eight groups of five each. Unlike the Champions League group phase, the UEFA Cup group phase is played in a single round-robin format, with each club playing two home and two away games. The top three teams in each group advance, where they are joined by the eight third-place teams in the Champions League group phase. The winners, runners-up and third-placed teams from each section advance to the last 32 where they are joined by the eight third-placed clubs from the UEFA Champions League group stage. Here, the traditional two-match knockout format resumes, until the final.
After the group stage there is a winter break. From this point, knockout play resumes, with two-legged ties leading to the one-off final, which is held at a neutral ground meeting UEFA’s criteria for a four star stadium. This season The City of Manchester Stadium, which seats 47,000 fans, will stage the 2007/08 UEFA Cup final on May 14th 2008.