KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The enforced success of last year’s Covid-enforced single-venue European club finals could persuade UEFA to adopt a similar ‘final four’ permanently for the Champion League after 2024.
This prospect was held out by Giorgio Marchetti, deputy general secretary of the European football federation, when he unveiled the revamped, expanded format for the European competitions in three years’ time.
Last August the one-off semi-finals and final of the Champions League were staged in Germany in a hastily-rearranged tournament to complete the pandemic-interrupted Champions League. The dramatic focus was popular with clubs and fans and UEFA, after initially dismissing prospects of a repeat, is having second thoughts.
Marchetti said: “We could possibly have a final four in one venue but this is subject to further study.”
A UEFA statement explaining the new format said:
Taking the total number of teams from 32 to 36 in the UEFA Champions League, the biggest change will see a transformation from the traditional group stage to a single league stage including all participating teams.
Every club will now be guaranteed a minimum of 10 league stage games against 10 different opponents (five home games, five away) rather than the previous six matches against three teams, played on a home and away basis.
The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition.
Similar format changes will also be applied to the UEFA Europa League (eight matches in the league stage) and UEFA Europa Conference League (six matches in the league stage). Subject to further discussions and agreements, these two competitions may also be expanded to a total of 36 teams each in the league stage.
Qualification for the UEFA Champions League will continue to be open and earned through a team’s performance in domestic competitions.
One of the additional places will go to the club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the UEFA national association ranking.
Another will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the so-called “Champions Path”.
The final two places will go to the clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years that have not qualified for the Champions League group stage but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase, the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.
All games before the final will still be played midweek, recognising the importance of the domestic calendar of games across Europe.