European club tournaments set for a change

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Lucerne, Dec 1: Champions League and UEFA tournaments are set to change as Football's governing body in Europe has agreed to make changes for a three year cycle from 2009.

Although no changes have been made to the modus of the main competition of the Champions League, 22 teams will be qualifying directly for the group stage instead of 16.

The executive committee of UEFA in Lucerne on Friday also decided to hold the final on a Saturday evening instead of a Wednesday evening.

The six additional clubs to go directly into the 32-team group stage will be the third-placed sides from the associations ranked between one and three in the ranking list - currently Spain, England and Italy - and the champions of countries ranked from 10 to 12.

The changes were proposed by UEFA president Michel Platini to increase the number of guaranteed places for mid-range national associations.

Ten other teams will qualify through a double qualifying route - one is reserved for the champions of the associations ranked from 13 to 53, with the exception of Liechtenstein.

Five clubs will qualify via this route. The other path is reserved for non-champions of associations rated between 1 and 15.

The final itself will be on a Saturday at 8.45 pm central European time in the same May week of the year as at present. It is hoped this will give families and children the chance to see the game.

Matches in the first knockout round, featuring 16 clubs, will be split over four weeks instead of two, using dates reserved for UEFA club competitions in February and March.
The third qualifying round will be marketed centrally by UEFA.

"We are all of the opinion that this is a great competition which provides a considerable spectacle," Platini said.

"The executive committee has unanimously adopted one of three proposals. I wanted more democracy in the access list, and the executive committee has understood this message," he added.

Meanwhile the executive committee has decided to abolish the Intertoto Cup, while changing the UEFA Cup to feature 48 sides, split into 12 groups of four.

The top two teams in each group will qualify for the 32-team knockout phase and be joined by the eight clubs that finish third in the group stage of the Champions League.

The first round - currently knockout - will become part of the qualifying phase. Only the title-holders will qualify directly for the group stage, with all other clubs having to qualify.

The qualifying process will consist of four rounds, with 37 additional slots to accommodate sides that currently qualify for the summer Intertoto Cup competition.

Teams that go out in the Champions League second and third qualifying rounds will move into the UEFA Cup fourth qualifying round and group phase respectively.


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