Everything You Need to Know About the UEFA Europa Conference League

By Ben Morris in Soccer
| June 16, 2021 9:18 am PST

When UEFA announced plans back in 2018 to introduce a third European club competition, it’s safe to say that a lot of soccer fans were against the idea.

With both the Champions League and Europa League already dominating a large portion of the soccer calendar, the prospect of another continental tournament wasn’t getting many people excited.

However, as we approach the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League season, interest in the tournament is growing – especially as we now know that European heavyweights such as Tottenham Hotspur and Roma will compete in the maiden campaign.

But what exactly is the Europa Conference League? And how will UEFA’s brand-new competition work?

In this post, I cover everything you need to know about the UEFA Europa Conference League. I look at the qualifying process, tournament format, potential favorites, and a whole lot more.

How Do Teams Qualify for the Europa Conference League?

Before we go any further, it is worth noting that no team can qualify directly for the UECL. Regardless of stature, every club will need to participate in at least one play-off round to book their spot in the group stage.

Overall, 184 sides from across the continent will get the chance to qualify for the competition, with at least one team from each of UEFA’s 55 associations involved.

Clubs from nations with higher coefficients – Spain, England, Germany, Italy, etc. – are entered into the latter qualifying rounds, giving them a better chance of reaching the tournament.

On the flip side, teams from countries like San Marino, Andorra, and other lower-ranked nations will have to come through multiple qualifying stages to punch their ticket to the main event.

How Many Teams Will Compete from Each Country?

Expand the table below to discover how many teams will be representing each nation at the Europa Conference League.

UEFA EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE REPRESENTATIVES
1 UECL Representative 2 UECL Representatives 3 UECL Representatives
Spain Portugal Switzerland
England Russia Greece
Germany Belgium Serbia
Italy Ukraine Croatia
France Netherlands Sweden
Liechtenstein Turkey Norway
Austria Israel
Denmark Kazakhstan
Scotland Belarus
Czech Republic Azerbaijan
Cyprus Bulgaria
Estonia Romania
Kosovo Poland
Faroe Islands Slovakia
Andorra Slovenia
San Marino Hungary
Luxembourg
Lithuania
Armenia
Latvia
Albania
North Macedonia
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Moldova
Republic of Ireland
Finland
Georgia
Malta
Iceland
Wales
Northern Ireland
Gibraltar
Montenegro
CLICK TO CLOSE

All of Europe’s top five leagues will only have one club participating in the UECL. Liechtenstein will also have just one representative, as many of the teams affiliated with the Liechtenstein Football Assocation operate in the Swiss league system.

16 countries will have two teams participating in the Europa Conference League, while the remaining 33 nations will be able to enter three sides into the qualifying phase of the competition.

Clubs from Spain, England, Italy, Germany, and France will have to finish one place outside the Europa League spots in their domestic league to be entered into the final UECL qualifying round.

Champions and runners-up from lower-ranked countries will also enter the qualifying rounds, along with domestic cup winners from the previous season.

2021/22 Europa Conference League Qualifying Dates

Here are the dates for this year’s UECL qualifying.

  • First qualifying round: July 8-15, 2021
  • Second qualifying round: July 22-29, 2021
  • Third qualifying round: August 5-12, 2021
  • Play-offs: August 19-26, 2021

Even before the Euro 2020 final, the lowest-ranked sides will begin their Europa Conference League journey. The first legs commence on July 8, with the second legs taking place on July 15.

Following a further two rounds, the final qualification stage – the play-offs – will take place between August 19 and 26.

Explaining the UEFA Europa Conference League Format

The UECL will follow the same format as the Champions League, with 32 sides competing in the final competition.

The initial group stage will see all the teams split into eight groups of four. After each side has played two games against every other team in the group, the top two clubs from each group will advance to the knockout phase.

Following the round of 16, the quarter-finals, and the semi-finals, the two remaining teams will battle it out to be crowned champions.

The winner of the 2021/22 Europa Conference League will automatically qualify for the 2022/23 Europa League.

Key Dates for the 2021/22 Europa Conference League

This is what the inaugural UECL schedule looks like.

  • Group stage: September 15-December 9, 2021
  • Round of 16: February 17-24, 2022
  • Quarter-finals: March 10-17, 2022
  • Semi-finals: April 28-May 5, 2022
  • Final: May 25, 2022

The 2021/22 Europa Conference League campaign is set to kick off a day after the Champions League season, while the UECL final is scheduled to be played three days before the UCL showpiece.

Who Are the 2021/22 UECL Favorites?

At this stage, the bookmakers have yet to release their odds for the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League. But as the tournament draws nearer, all the best online sports betting sites will provide UECL odds.

Still, there are several teams that will almost certainly find themselves among the bookies’ group of frontrunners. Let’s take a closer look at some of the likely Europa Conference League favorites.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Country: England
  • Last season: 7th (EPL)
  • Best European finish: Champions League runners-up (2018/19)

Tottenham made it all the way to the Champions League final in 2019, only to fall to EPL rivals Liverpool. Following a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, the London club is arguably the highest-profile side in the inaugural UECL.

Roma

  • Country: Italy
  • Last season: 7th (Serie A)
  • Best European finish: European Cup runners-up (1983/84)

Led by ex-Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, Roma is another huge club that will be participating in the maiden Europa Conference League. Could the self-proclaimed “Special One” come back to haunt his former club?

Rennes

  • Country: France
  • Last season: 6th (Ligue 1)
  • Best European finish: Intertoto Cup champions (2008)

Rennes has consistently finished at the top end of Ligue 1 in recent seasons. The Red and Blacks competed in the Champions League last year after ending up third the French top-flight, so they will be one of the strongest teams in the UECL.

Anderlecht

  • Country: Belgium
  • Last season: 3rd (Jupiler Pro League)
  • Best European finish: UEFA Cup champions (1982/83)

Anderlecht is probably the most decorated club in the 2021/22 Europa Conference League. The Belgian giant has won a record 34 top-flight titles, along with two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, and one UEFA Cup. Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany is the man in charge.

Union Berlin

  • Country: Germany
  • Last season: 7th (Bundesliga)
  • Best European finish: UEFA Cup second round (2001/02)

Union Berlin is relatively new to European soccer. However, Urs Fischer’s side has been making waves in Germany over the past few years. Following an impressive seventh-place finish in the Bundesliga, Union looks set to challenge for the UECL trophy.

Feyenoord

  • Country: Netherlands
  • Last season: 5th (Eredivisie)
  • Best European finish: European Cup champions (1969/70)

With 15 Eredivisie titles and a host of other accolades to their name, Feyenoord looks out of place at the third level of European soccer. Nevertheless, the Dutch powerhouse will be one of the main challengers for the inaugural UECL trophy.

Final Word on the Europa Conference League

Whatever you make of the Europa Conference League, UEFA’s tertiary club competition is here to stay.

The UECL is widely viewed as a money-making scheme, with many soccer purists believing that another continental tournament will only cause more problems. However, a lot of positives could come from the competition.

With at least one team from each of UEFA’s 55 associations involved in the tournament, there will be more opportunities for lower-ranked nations to get their clubs involved in European soccer.

A third competition also gives smaller sides in Europe’s biggest leagues the chance to compete on the continental stage. For example, teams like Everton and Aston Villa are always likely to struggle to secure a top-six finish in the EPL. Now, they can finish lower and still book their spot in Europe.

As the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League draws closer, you will be able to find regular updates for the inaugural campaign over in our soccer blog.

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