Skip to content

What is the UEFA Europa Conference League and who could play in it?

The UEFA Europa Conference League launches in 2021-22, FTF takes a look at the potential line-up for the competition and how it will function.

There have been many murmurs about the fundamental restructuring of the Champions League in 2024.

However, below Europe’s elite competition, change is already upon us.

The UEFA Europa Conference League has crept up behind many in the football sphere. So much so that to most, its existence remains enshrouded in mystery.

Despite the fact that the competition is about to start in just a few months time.

A competition which will see more European teams competing against one another since the dawn of man.

The history

European football is no stranger to having three elite competitions in the football calendar. In fact as late as 2008, this was the case before the UEFA Intertoto Cup was disbanded and the UEFA Cup was rebranded as the Europa League.

The UEFA Europa Conference League will aim resurrect the previously abolished tournament in the hope to create more competition in Europe.

Although it aims to ignite the same spirit, the new format will look starkly different to the Intertoto days.

For example the Intertoto had no final, and a convoluted qualifying process in its later stages.

Much of the competition took place in the summer which will not be the case with the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The process for who qualified was especially murky and not as clear as the UEFA Europa Conference League promises to be.

What will however remain the same, is the ultimate prize.

The winner of the competition will qualify for the Europa League. Which was the same for Intertoto Cup with winners able to take part in the UEFA Cup.

Qualification process

In the beginning of the Intertoto Cup, teams from lesser powerhouse nations were able to compete at the highest level of the competition.

However, with the modernisation of football in the 90s and 00s the competition was eventually overtaken and became dominated by the smaller clubs from Europe’s elite nations like Italy, France, England and Spain..

UEFA has attempted to keep the original theme of the Intertoto Cup in the UEFA Europa Conference League but also address its previous shortcomings.

Countries from lesser nations therefore will have more initial entrants into the qualifying round of the competition to increase the likelihood of them making it further in the qualifying rounds.

Check out our shop on Etsy:

For example, even UEFA’s lowest ranked sides like San Marino and Andorra will have two (possibly three) sides looking to qualify for the group stages of the competition.

The first qualifying round will see a whopping 70 teams compete from UEFA’s bottom 25 seeded nations.

The teams could look like this based on current league standings:

  1. San Marino – Tre Penne
  2. San Marino – Libertas
  3. Andorra – Atletic Escaldes
  4. Andorra – Engordany
  5. Faroe Islands – IF
  6. Faroe Islands – Vikingur
  7. Kosovo – Drita
  8. Kosovo – Prishtina
  9. Estonia – Paide
  10. Estonia – Levadia
  11. Montenegro – Decic
  12. Montenegro – Sutjeska
  13. Montenegro – Rudar
  14. Gibraltar – Lincoln Red Imps
  15. Gibraltar – St Joseph’s FC
  16. Gibraltar – Lynx
  17. Norther Ireland – Glentoran
  18. Norther Ireland – Coleraine
  19. Northern Ireland – Cliftonville
  20. Wales – The New Saints
  21. Wales – Bala Town
  22. Wales – Barry
  23. Iceland – Stjarnan
  24. Iceland – Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar
  25. Iceland – Breioablik
  26. Malta – Hibernians
  27. Malta – Gzira
  28. Malta – Birkikara FC
  29. Georgia – Locomotive Tbsilisi
  30. Georgia – Dinamo Batumi
  31. Georgia – Saburtalo
  32. Finland – Inter Turku
  33. Finland – KuPS
  34. Finland – FC Honka
  35. Ireland – Sligo Rovers
  36. Ireland – Bohemians
  37. Ireland – Dundalk
  38. Moldova – Petrocub
  39. Moldova – Milsami
  40. Moldova – Sfintul Gheorghe Suruceni
  41. Bosnia – Velez
  42. Bosnia – NK Siroki Brijeg
  43. Bosnia – Borac
  44. North Macedonia – Shkupi
  45. North Macedonia – Makedonija
  46. North Macedonia – Rabotnicki
  47. Albania – KF Laci
  48. Albania – FK Partizani Tirana
  49. Albania – Teuta
  50. Latvia – RFS
  51. Latvia – Valmieras
  52. Latvia – Liepaja
  53. Armenia – Alashkert
  54. Armenia – Ararat-Armenia
  55. Armenia – Lori
  56. Lithuania – Suduva
  57. Lithuania – Kauno Zalgiris
  58. Lithuania – Banga
  59. Luxembourg – Dundelage
  60. Luxembourg – Swift Hesperange
  61. Luxembourg – FC Differdange
  62. Hungary – Puskas Akademia
  63. Hungary – Fehervar
  64. Hungary – MTK Budapest
  65. Slovenia – Maribor
  66. Slovenia – Domzale
  67. Slovenia – Mura
  68. Slovakia – MSK Zilina
  69. Slovakia – DAC
  70. Poland – Rakow Czestochowa

Highlighted in bold are the teams FTF expects to advance into the second round of the competition based on a mixture of UEFA coefficient points and previous results in European qualifying.

Second Qualifying Round

The 2nd Qualifying round will be the biggest qualifying round in terms of teams involved in the history of UEFA club competitions.

The round will see a total of 110 teams competing to get through to the third qualifying round.

Whereas in the previous round, there were teams from mostly the minnows of European football, the second round will see more familiar names enter the fray.

Here are the teams who could compete in the main path of the competition based on current league tables.

  1. Poland – Pogon Szczecin
  2. Slovakia – Spartak Trnava
  3. Poland – Lechi Gdansk
  4. Romania – CFR Cluj
  5. Romania – Craiova
  6. Romania – Sepsi
  7. Bulgaria – Arda
  8. Bulgaria – CSKA Sofia
  9. Bulgaria – Lokomotiv Plovdiv
  10. Azerbaijan – Neftci
  11. Azerbaijan – FC Inter Baku
  12. Azerbaijan – Sumqayit
  13. Belarus – FC Torpedo
  14. Belarus – BATE
  15. Belarus – Dinamo Brest
  16. Kazakhstan – Astana
  17. Kazakhstan – Tobol
  18. Kazakhstan – Shakther
  19. Israel – Ashdod
  20. Israel – Hapoel Ironi Kiryat
  21. Israel – Maccabi Tel Aviv
  22. Norway – Molde FK
  23. Norway – Valerenga
  24. Norway – Rosenborg
  25. Sweden – Hacken
  26. Sweden – IF Elsborg
  27. Sweden – Djurgarden
  28. Croatia – Rijeka
  29. Croatia – NK Osijek
  30. Croatia – HNK Gorica
  31. Serbia – Vojvodina
  32. Serbia – Partizani Belgrade
  33. Serbia – Cukaricki
  34. Greece – Aris
  35. Greece – PAOK
  36. Greece – AEK Athens
  37. Switzerland – Lugano
  38. Switzerland – Servette
  39. Switzerland – Basel
  40. Cyprus – AEL Limassol
  41. Cyprus – Apollon Limassol
  42. Cyprus – Anorthosis
  43. Czech Republic – Jablonec
  44. Czech Republic – FC Slovacko
  45. Scotland – Hibernian
  46. Scotland – Aberdeen
  47. Denmark – Copenhagen
  48. Austria – SK Sturm Graz
  49. Turkey – Trabzsponsor
  50. Netherlands – Vitesse
  51. Ukraine – Vorskla
  52. Belgium – Anderlecht
  53. Russia – CSKA Moscow
  54. Portugal – Pacos Ferreira
  55. Liechestein – FC Vaduz
  56. Luxembourg – Dundelage
  57. Luxembourg – Swift Hesperange
  58. Luxembourg – FC Differdange
  59. Hungary – Puskas Akademia
  60. Hungary – Fehervar
  61. Hungary – MTK Budapest
  62. Slovenia – Maribor
  63. Slovenia – Domzale
  64. Slovenia – Mura
  65. Slovakia – MSK Zilina
  66. Slovakia – DAC
  67. Poland – Rakow Czestochowa
  68. Albania – KF Laci
  69. Albania – FK Partizani Tirana
  70. Albania – Teuta
  71. Latvia – RFS
  72. Latvia – Valmieras
  73. Latvia – Liepaja
  74. Amernia – Alashkert
  75. Armenia – Ararat-Armenia
  76. Armenia – Lori
  77. Lithuania – Suduva
  78. Lithuania – Kauno Zalgiris
  79. North Macedonia – Rabotnicki
  80. Bosnia – Velez
  81. Bosnia – NK Siroki Brijeg
  82. Bosnia – Borac
  83. North Macedonia – Shkupi
  84. Finland – KuPS
  85. Finland – FC Honka
  86. Ireland – Sligo Rovers
  87. Ireland – Bohemians
  88. Ireland – Dundalk
  89. Norther Ireland – Glentoran
  90. Gibraltar – Lincoln Red Imps

Once again FTF have highlighted the teams likely to qualify for the next stage of the competition based on UEFA club coefficients and previous performances in European competition.

As well as the main path UEFA will also introduce the Champions Path – the stage that will give clubs, who qualified to compete for a place in the Champions League group stages but were eliminated, a smoother route to the group stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

In this round the Champions Path will see 20 teams eliminated from Champions League qualifying to compete for a place in the third round.

The 20 eliminated teams will likely look like this:

  1. Armenia – Ararat
  2. Latvia – Riga
  3. Albania – Vllaznia
  4. North Macedonia – Shkendija
  5. Bosnia – Sarajevo
  6. Moldova – Sheriff
  7. Republic of Ireland – Shamrock Rovers
  8. Finland – HJK
  9. Georgia – Dinamo Tsbilisi
  10. Malta – Hamrun
  11. Iceland – Valur
  12. Wales – Connah’s Quay
  13. Gibraltar – Europa
  14. Northern Ireland – Lindfield
  15. Montenegro – Budocnost
  16. Estonia – TJK Legion
  17. Kosovo – Ballkani
  18. San Marino – Tre Fiori
  19. Andorra – Inter d’Escaldes
  20. Faroe Islands – HB

Third Qualifying Round

The third round will only have 62 teams but it will include clubs from nations like Russia, Turkey and the Netherlands. These could be the so called ‘big guns’ of the competition.

The main path as a result will look something like this.

  1. Russia – Lokomotiv Moscow
  2. Belgium – Genk
  3. Ukraine – Zorya Luhansk
  4. Netherlands – AZ Alkmaar
  5. Turkey – Fenerbahce
  6. Austria – LASK
  7. Denmark – AGF
  8. Poland – Pogon Szczecin
  9. Romania – CFR Cluj
  10. Romania – Craiova
  11. Bulgaria – CSKA Sofia
  12. Azerbaijan – Neftci
  13. Belarus – BATE
  14. Kazakhstan – Astana
  15. Israel – Hapoel Ironi Kiryat
  16. Israel – Maccabi Tel Aviv
  17. Norway – Molde FK
  18. Norway – Valerenga
  19. Norway – Rosenborg
  20. Sweden – IF Elsborg
  21. Sweden – Djurgarden
  22. Croatia – Rijeka
  23. Croatia – NK Osijek
  24. Serbia – Vojvodina
  25. Serbia – Partizani Belgrade
  26. Greece – PAOK
  27. Greece – AEK Athens
  28. Switzerland – Lugano
  29. Switzerland – Servette
  30. Switzerland – Basel
  31. Cyprus – AEL Limassol
  32. Cyprus – Apollon Limassol
  33. Czech Republic – Jablonec
  34. Scotland – Livingstone
  35. Scotland – Aberdeen
  36. Denmark – Copenhagen
  37. Austria – SK Sturm Graz
  38. Turkey – Trabzsponsor
  39. Netherlands – Vitesse
  40. Ukraine – Vorskla
  41. Belgium – Anderlecht
  42. Russia – CSKA Moscow
  43. Portugal – Pacos Ferreira
  44. Luxembourg – Dundelage
  45. Hungary – Fehervar
  46. Slovenia – Maribor
  47. Slovakia – MSK Zilina
  48. Slovakia – DAC
  49. Poland – Rakow Czestochowa
  50. Albania – FK Partizani Tirana
  51. Finland – KuPS
  52. Ireland – Dundalk

Once again based on previous performances, and UEFA club coefficents we have highlighted the teams who would likely advance for the next stage of the tournament.

Meanwhile in the Champions Path the ten winning teams from the previous round will compete for spots for the Play Offs between themselves.

  1. Armenia – Ararat
  2. Latvia – Riga
  3. Albania – Vllaznia
  4. North Macedonia – Shkendija
  5. Bosnia – Sarajevo
  6. Republic of Ireland – Shamrock Rovers
  7. Finland – HJK
  8. Georgia – Dinamo Tsbilisi
  9. Iceland – Valur
  10. Northern Ireland – Lindfield

Once again we predicted who could advance to the next stage of the competition.

The Play Offs

In the Play Offs stage, things start to get a bit more complicated. Teams eliminated from the Europa League qualifiers will also now enter the competition.

As well teams from Europe’s more elite nations like England, Spain, Italy and Germany.

That’s right. Unlike the Champions League or the Europa League where there were automatic qualification spots for the group stages of the tournament, the UEFA Europa Conference League will not have that.

Instead the likes of Tottenham/Liverpool/Everton depending on who qualifies will have to compete in a mass 44 team qualification Play Off over a two-legged tie in order to determine whether they make the final stage of the tournament or not.

Here is how the main path of the final stage of the qualification process could look like.

  1. Portugal – Braga
  2. France – Marseille
  3. Italy – Roma
  4. Germany – Bayer Leverkusen
  5. England – Tottenham
  6. Spain – Real Betis
  7. Russia – Lokomotiv Moscow
  8. Belgium – Genk
  9. Ukraine – Zorya Luhansk
  10. Netherlands – AZ Alkmaar
  11. Turkey – Fenerbahce
  12. Austria – LASK
  13. Israel – Maccabi Tel Aviv
  14. Norway – Molde FK
  15. Norway – Valerenga
  16. Sweden – Djurgarden
  17. Serbia – Partizani Belgrade
  18. Greece – PAOK
  19. Greece – AEK Athens
  20. Switzerland – Lugano
  21. Switzerland – Basel
  22. Cyprus – Apollon Limassol
  23. Scotland – Aberdeen
  24. Denmark – Copenhagen
  25. Austria – SK Sturm Graz
  26. Turkey – Trabzsponsor
  27. Netherlands – Vitesse
  28. Belgium – Anderlecht
  29. Russia – CSKA Moscow
  30. Portugal – Pacos Ferreira
  31. Hungary – Fehervar
  32. Ireland – Dundalk
  33. Celtic
  34. Sparta Prague

These teams would compete for 17 places in the group stages of the tournament. FTF have again based on UEFA Club coefficient ranking and previous tournament performances have predicted who could go through and highlighted the prospective teams.

Of course at this stage the competition becomes a bit harder to predict, and one would not rule out any surprise results either.

Therefore take this with a pinch of salt.

In addition to that, a further five teams eliminated from Europa League qualifying Champions path, will enter the competition for a Play Off against the five teams who advanced from the previous Champions path qualifying round in the UEFA Europa Conference League.

This could look similar to the line-up below, with the teams eliminated from the Europa League determined based on UEFA Club Coefficient rankings.

  1. Republic of Ireland – Shamrock Rovers
  2. Finland – HJK
  3. Georgia – Dinamo Tsbilisi
  4. Northern Ireland – Lindfield
  5. Bosnia – Sarajevo
  6. Hungary – Ferencvaros
  7. Poland – Legia Warsaw
  8. Slovakia – Slovan Bratislava
  9. Luxembourg– Fola Esch
  10. Slovenia – Olimpija

The teams likely to qualify are highlighted in bold letters.

Group Stages

The aforementioned teams only add up to 22, the 10 places left will be filled by those teams who lost their Europa League Play Off matches.

The teams who would have had the pathway to make it that far but would have likely fallen at the last hurdle could be as follows:

  1. Denmark – AGF
  2. Scotland – Hibernian
  3. Ukraine – Desna
  4. Sweden – Malmo
  5. Norway – Bodo Glimt
  6. Austria – Rapid Vienna
  7. Romania – FCSB
  8. Azerbaijan – Qarabag
  9. Israel – Maccabi Haifa
  10. Belarus – Shakhtar Soligorsk

Which would make the final 32 teams of the tournament:

  1. Celtic
  2. CSKA Moscow
  3. Sturm Graz
  4. Basel
  5. PAOK
  6. Molde FK
  7. LASK
  8. Fenerbahce
  9. AZ Alkmaar
  10. Genk
  11. Lokomotiv Moscow
  12. Real Betis
  13. Tottenham/Liverpool
  14. Bayer Leverkusen
  15. Roma
  16. Marseille
  17. Braga
  18. Ferencvaros
  19. Legia Warsaw
  20. Slovan Bratislava
  21. Shamrock Rovers
  22. Olimpija
  23. Hibernian
  24. AGF
  25. Bodo Glimt
  26. Desna
  27. Malmo
  28. Rapid Vienna
  29. Qarabag
  30. FCSB
  31. Shakhtar Soligorsk
  32. Maccabi Haifa

These teams would then be seeded based on UEFA Club coefficient rankings into 4 different pots just like in the Champions League.

Below are the seeds listed and the groups randomly assigned to them.

Top Seed

  1. Tottenham/Liverpool – A
  2. AS Roma – B
  3. Bayer Leverkusen – C
  4. Basel – D
  5. CSKA Moscow – E
  6. Braga – F
  7. Celtic – G
  8. Lokomotiv Moscow  – H

2nd Seed

  1. Marseille – G
  2. Genk – A
  3. AZ Alkmaar  – H
  4. LASK – B
  5. FCSB – C
  6. Qarabag – D
  7. PAOK – F
  8. Fenerbahce – E

3rd Seed

  1. Real Betis – G
  2. Malmo – B
  3. Molde FK – A
  4. Legia Warsaw – C
  5. Rapid Vienna – E
  6. Ferencvaros – D
  7. NK Olimpija – H
  8. Sturm Graz – F

Unseeded

  1. Slovan Bratislava – G
  2. Shamrock Rovers – H
  3. Hibernian – C
  4. AGF – E
  5. Bodo Glimt – D
  6. Desna – B
  7. Shakhtar Soligorsk – A
  8. Maccabi Haifa – F

Ultimately the groups could look like this.

The purpose

The new tournament will be played-out in tandem with the Europa League on Thursday nights.

There will be a preliminary knockout round after the group stages where eight 2nd placed group teams will play against eight 3rd placed teams from the Europa League to compete for a spot in the round of 16.

There are rightly sceptics of the new scheme. Despite UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin declaring the new competition will make ‘UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before.’

The statement may not be entirely true.

The new competition will likely decrease the likelihood of underdog narratives.

Take the case of Molde FK’s run in the Europa League this season. The blues knocked out Bundesliga side Hoffenheim and came narrowly close to a place in the quarter final falling to a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Granada from Spain.

Under our projections the Norwegian side will find it difficult to qualify for the Europa League again next season and repeat their heroics. Especially since Europe’s 2nd tier competition will be reduced from 48 teams to just 32.

Based on our projected group-stage draw there will be teams competing in the competition from this year’s Champions League group stages, round of 16 and potentially quarter finals. Teams like Ferencvaros. Or Liverpool.

The same can be said of the Europa League.

However, not all of this may be a burden. The likes of potentially Liverpool/Tottenham or Roma being involved, who not long ago (some still are) competed in the Champions League, will only legitimatise the competition.

There will be no changes made to the Champions League qualifying format too which is a promising sign for now.

It means teams like Ferencvaros still stand a chance of competing in the highest tier of European football. Though things are likely to change by 2024.

There is also much to be admired from the new competition.

The tournament will give teams who are unlikely to play competitive European football the chance to grow.

Some estimates and financial experts calculate the revenue generated from the new competition could be similar to Europa League earnings which would be invaluable to the aforementioned clubs from UEFA’s weaker leagues.

The competition will also present the chance for talents, and younger players from these so called ‘weaker’ leagues to catch the eye of scouts on the European stage.

As well as increase support for local teams in respective nations. A struggle many European countries are currently contending with exemplified by plummeting attendances prior to Covid-19.

Hope

The likelihood is that most of our projected third seeded and unseeded teams would not be looking at the prospect of European football next season without the new competition.

The UEFA Europa Conference League will give these clubs a tangible hope of competing against the best.

If the likes of Liverpool/Tottenham, Lazio/Roma or Bayer Leverkusen/Union Berlin are involved that will give the competition a huge legitimacy.

But at the same time, the downfall of the Intertoto Cup was that it became too overcrowded by lesser teams from the bigger nations who took the platform away from clubs in smaller European countries.

If UEFA’s qualifying system remains in place, with this new competition that will not be the case.

However, the future of the tournament remains fragile.

UEFA’s new Champions League format could quickly revamp the entire competition, making the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham no longer able candidates.

And if that is the case, the UEFA Europa Conference League could follow the same path as its predecessor.

Have your say, who do you think are the favourites to win the competition? What do you make of our projected group-stage predictions?

Enjoyed this article? If you want to support the work we do you can make a donation.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£3.00
£5.00
£10.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly
Scandinavia: The home of second chances for Non-League players
Why Scandinavia has become the land of opportunity for footballers playing in …
Every Bundesliga Club’s Most Exciting Talent Under 23 (Part 2)
German football writer Adam Khan profiles the most exciting u23 talent at …
Every Bundesliga Clubs Most Exciting Talent Under 23 (Part 1)
German football writer Adam Khan profiles the most exciting u23 talent at …
Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio: Finding new purpose in Rome
Lazio and Maurizio Sarri. Both have suffered bruising departures in recent years. …

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: