Europa League

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Early Beginnings

The Europa League formely known as the UEFA Cup is one of the greatest and most respected tournaments in all of European football. It began in 1971 as a replacement to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a tournament established to promote international trade fairs. Initially friendly matches were held between teams located in cities that held trade fairs. Out of these friendly matches a more regular and competitive tournament grew.

The initial tournament was a three year affair and featured teams from 10 different cities across Europe. The final of the first tournament featured a match between Barcelona and London XI, named because the team consisted of players from eleven different clubs. Barcelona proved triumphant in this first tournament and would go on to win again in the second year. The third tournament did not happen until the 1960-61 season, but after this the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup became an annual event. In this day and age there was no association between the Fairs Cup and the European Cup and the were primarily viewed as rivals. This changed pretty quickly however as the European Cup began to show that it would be the premier international competition. This still left a spot open for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but it would never be as prominent as the European Cup. The Fairs cup continued in this basic format until the 1971-72 season when is was taken over by UEFA and re branded as the Europa League. By taking over the tournament, replacing the trophy, and renaming the competition the UEFA pretty much terminated the Fairs. A one off match was held between Leeds United and FC Barcelona, the two teams who possessed the cup the most times, to determine who would permanently hold the cup. This match was won by Barcelona 2-1.

Gaining entry into and competing for the Europa League is a great honour for many teams across Europe. Originally the Cup was supposed to be a competition for runners up in the European leagues, but since the Europa League merged with Europa League Winners Cup there have been many other teams entered in the tournament in addition to the runners up. This can include teams that have been eliminated from the Champions League, teams that have won lower tier leagues, and many other lower placing teams in the larger leagues across Europe. Currently there are many rules for qualification and things can be very complicated.

Tournament Logistics

The primary system used for qualification for is based around the UEFA coefficients, a complicated system for ranking all of the different leagues across Europe. Generally speaking teams can win a spot in the Europa League by finishing in second place in the top leagues across Europe. Usually the winners of the second tier will gain entry as well, and many countries will have specific tournaments that award a spot in the tournament. This qualification can get even more muddled it one team qualifies for the cup from two different places. Generally speaking the governing body for football in that country will have measures in place to put a team in the slot that the other team one, and again there can be separate tournaments set up to get teams into that last spot. Once the teams are established the tournament can begin.

When it was first founded the Europa League was a knockout tournament, however now the tournament has changed formats slightly. The two initial rounds are still in the knockout format of the old tournament. The lower ranked associations begin qualification rounds first with other leagues entering in the second rounds and on. After the first rounds the teams will be cut down to 40 who enter a group phase. These teams are broken out into eight groups of five each. These teams play a single round robin format in which each team will play two home and two away games. 24 teams will advance out of this group phase into a knockout tournament with the eight third place teams from the champions league. The knockout continues until there are two teams left who play in a single final match.

While for most teams winning the Champions League is a total impossibility, there have been many unforeseen and smaller champions of the Europa League. For many teams this tournament offers a realistic chance at a prestigious international trophy. It can also give smaller clubs more exposure on an international level. For players on these teams it is a great opportunity to showcase their skills. The most successful teams in the Europa League are Juventus, Internazionale, and Liverpool. Each of these teams has won the cup three times with both Juventus and FC Internazionale being runners up once a piece.

One of the more interesting teams to win the Europa League was Galatasaray in 2000. The hold the distinction of being the only team to ever win the cup and go undefeated. To secure it they had to knock of mighty Arsenal of England. This was the first time a Turkish team has won a European club football trophy. There run was completely unprecedented in European international competition. In order to advance they first had to defeat AC Milan, no small feat. After that they knocked many other impressive clubs including Leeds United and Arsenal in the final. Because of the nature of this tournament it allows teams like Galatasaray a legitimate chance at winning a prestigious competition.

The Europa League will never be the number one trophy in Europe, but it is an important tournament that offers many teams a true shot at glory. As history and time march on, football fans around the world look on this competition with more fondness and admiration.