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How Europa League Qualification Works

After the prestigious Champions League, the Europa League is the biggest tournament across the top European association football teams. Formed in 1971, the cup was initially known as the UEFA Cup, and the structure of the tournament was also different from the current setup. There were no group stages, and the initial competitions fielded only 12 teams.

Nowadays the Europa League is open to some of the top clubs in European football, it is closely entwined with the Champions League, with teams that lose in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League proceeding to the equivalent following round of the Europa League. Also in the group stages of the Champions League, the teams who finish in third place (and thus do not proceed to the round of sixteen) are put into the Europa League knockout stage.

This allows the competition to field some top tier teams who may have just missed out on Champions League football (or got knocked out in the group stage), and who may be looking to add to their silverware with a European Cup. The winners of the Europa League also receive an automatic berth to the following year’s Champions League tournament.

Europa League Automatic Selection

A total of 52 teams are eligible to play in the Europa League, with berths given to leagues based on the UEFA Association Coefficients and how they rank in the UEFA Rankings.

The UEFA Coefficients are determined on how the clubs in a domestic league fare in European football; these are updated each year based on the previous campaign, and the rankings are drawn from the points amassed by the individual domestic leagues. Currently, the English Premier League is at the top of the rankings, followed by the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Bundesliga and the French Ligue One. A total of 55 leagues are ranked across all the European top flight football leagues, every single league is given a chance to get into the Europa League (by automatic selection or by receiving a place into the qualifying rounds) with the exception of the Lichtenstein domestic football league.

The top fifteen leagues are given automatic berths, with the top five leagues receiving two places in the competition proper each and the following ten leagues have one automatic place in the competition proper each. These places are given to the teams who finish in the highest position in the league outside of the Champions League places (in the English Premier League for example, there are four places for Champions League football, and a fifth place finish awards the team a Europa League berth). In the higher leagues, winning a domestic cup (for example the FA Cup) grants a position in the Europa League competition proper, however if this is won by one of the teams who already qualified for European football (Champions League or Europa League), the sixth place for Europa League football is given to the team who finished sixth in the domestic league. This rule applies to all the top five leagues in the UEFA Rankings.

Europa League Qualification

The qualification for the Europa League is played out in five rounds, with clubs from 55 top flight domestic leagues. The paths in the qualification rounds are divided into the Champions Path and the League Path, The Champions being clubs who come from lower ranking leagues (and have to play more rounds to get into the competition proper), and the League for those clubs who come from higher ranking leagues (thus playing less rounds).

Preliminary Qualifying Round

The paths are preceded by a preliminary round involving fourteen teams, which includes four domestic cup winners from the 52nd to 55th leagues, six runners up in the 49th to 54th domestic leagues and four third place finishing clubs in the 48th to the 51st ranked domestic leagues. They are paired and then play a two leg knockout round, with the winners moving onto the first qualifying round.

First Qualifying Round

The seven winners of the preliminary round are joined by 87 more clubs, to bring the total number of teams in the first qualifying round to ninety four. The entrants include twenty six domestic league winners in the leagues ranked 26th to 51st, thirty domestic league runners’ up in the 18th to 48th ranked associations (excluding the Lichtenstein league, which does not play in any of the European Cup competitions) and thirty one clubs who finished third in the 16th to 47th ranked associations.

They are seeded and then play a two match knockout round, in which the winners proceed to the League Path.

The League Path

Second Qualifying Round

The second qualifying round in the league path consists of 74 clubs, comprised of the 47 winners of the preceding round, as well as seven domestic cup winners of the 19th to 25th ranked associations, the two runners up of the 16th and 17th domestic leagues, the three third placed teams from the 13th to 15th ranked leagues, nine clubs who finished fourth in the 7th to 15th associations, two fifth placed clubs in the 5th and 6th ranked leagues and four sixth placed teams in the first to fourth associations.

The 74 clubs are paired up and play a two match knockout fixture in which the 37 victors proceed to the third qualifying round.

Third Qualifying Round

The 37 winners of the previous round are joined by the two losers from the second qualifying round in the Champions League qualification, as well as six domestic cup winners from the 13th to 18th ranked associations, six third placed teams from the 7th to 12th ranked leagues and the team that finished in fourth place in the 6th ranked league.

The 52 teams are paired up and play two leg fixtures, and the winners advance to the playoff round.

Playoff Round

The playoffs are the final round in the League path before teams can qualify for the Europa League competition proper. The 26 winning teams from the previous round are not joined by any new entrants, they are paired up and play two matches, home and away. The winners over both legs qualify for the competition proper.

The Champions Path

The Champions path is played out amongst teams from higher associations, and after each round, the losers from the equivalent Champions League qualifying round are placed into the Europa League qualification.

Second Qualifying Round

Starting at the second qualifying round, the teams that play are the losers of the Champions League qualifications. 16 losing teams from the Champions League first round and 3 clubs that lost in the Champions League preliminary round face off in pairs (there are 19 teams, so the UEFA association decides which team gets a bye for this round). After a two legged fixture, the winners proceed to the next round.

Third Qualifying Round

The ten winners from the previous round are joined by the 10 losers from the Champions League second qualifying round for a two match fixture, in which the winners proceed to the playoffs.

Playoff Round

There are 16 teams in this round, composed of the 10 winners of the previous round as well as the 6 losers from the Champions League third qualifying round. The eight winners will proceed to the Europa League competition proper.

Interesting Facts about the Europa League

The Europa League is one of the most varied and exciting tournaments in world football. The Cup has been won by 29 different clubs since it was formed in 1971, compared to the 22 who have won the Champions League (which was formed in 1955).

The chance to play European football, potentially against some of the biggest clubs (should they fail to qualify or are knocked out of the Champions League) gives European clubs the incentive to play their best football.

Lower ranked teams have won the European Cup, such as Galatasaray, Ipswich Town, Anderlecht, Shakhtar Donetsk and IFK Goteborg (twice).

Sevilla has won the competition six times, more than any other team. Three of those wins were with manager Unai Emery, who won his fourth cup last year with his new team Villareal.

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