Jun 022009

With European competition being revamped for 2009/10, the focus has been heavily on the dreadful looking Europa League (in which Everton or Villa would need to navigate 17 matches to win the competition, Fulham 19 as they have an extra qualifying round), but lost amongst the insanity has been the gross complication of Champions League qualification. It used to be so simple – there were a series of qualifying rounds, and teams arrived in those rounds dependent on their country’s European co-efficient, a measure of how successful each nation’s teams had been, collectively, over the previous five years. The more success you had, the less rounds you had to play to qualify.

The co-efficient process has not changed, and it is still a table topped by the Premiership, unsurprising given how it delivers a Champions League finalist every year. But whereas first or second in the Premiership used to put you in the group stage, and third and fourth into a qualifying match against fairly weak opposition (our sides are always seeded), the process is now overly complex. Time to decipher the madness.

The basics of the new format

  • The 32 teams in the group stage used to be comprised of 16 automatic entrants, and 16 qualifiers. Now, there are 22 automatic entrants from a wider variety of nations (some of which might not even have played in the group stages last year) and only 10 that come through the qualifying rounds. UEFA’s theory is that big clubs always get through qualifiers at the expense of champions from smaller nations, so they’ve given more free passes to those that would normally exit in the qualifiers. Incidentally, the extra automatic entrants are the third placed sides in the top three countries (England, Spain, Italy), and the champions of countries ranked 10-12 (Scotland, Turkey and Ukraine – champions of the top 9 countries qualified automatically  anyway).
  • One of the 16 automatic spots always goes to the holders, which this season is Barcelona. Since they qualified through the league anyway, the holder’s reserved spot goes instead to the champions of the 13th placed country (the next in line) – Belgium.
  • The remaining 10 spots are for everyone else to fight over, and this time, instead of piling everyone together, UEFA have put the remaining national champions (of countries ranked 14th and below) into one qualifying competition, and all other teams who didn’t win their league (such as Arsenal) into another. Each qualifying competition will supply 5 of the 10 qualifying places. Note – this is bad. In fact, this is very bad. Previously, all non-champions that found themselves in qualifying rounds had 16 places to fight over, and had the opportunity (as seeded teams) to play the champions of Luxembourg and cruise through. Now, they have to play other non-champions for only five spots, and since only the top 15 of  53 countries in Europe have sides other than their national champions entering the Champions League qualifiers (rather than the Europa League), this means they will all be drawn against each other in a series of tricky ties.

So who has qualified for the group stages already?

  • The 16 sides that would have qualified under the old system still do, and they are: Man United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, Juventus, Bordeaux, Marseille, Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, Rubin Kazan (champions of Russia in 2008, apparently), CSKA Moscow, Unirea Urziceni (Romania), Porto, AZ, and, since Barcelona qualified as champions, Standard Liege.
  • In addition, the 6 extra automatic places go to Chelsea, Sevilla, AC Milan, Rangers, Besiktas, and Dynamo Kiev.

How does qualification work for everyone else?

  • 5 of the 10 remaining positions are filled by qualifiers from the ‘Champions Path’, a competition for the league winners of nations ranked 14th-53rd in Europe. This is the easy route, because quite frankly there are barely any decent teams in the list. By definition, if your country is ranked 14th or below in Europe, it is because you haven’t had any tangible success, and that’s probably because all your teams are rubbish.
  • The full list of clubs in the Champions Path is: Olympiakos, Slavia Prague, Grasshopper Zurich, Levski Sofia, Stabaek, FC Copenhagen, Red Bull Salzburg, Partizan Belgrade, Maccabi Haifa, Kalmar FF, Sloven Bratislava, Wisla Krakow, Debrecen, Dinamo Zagreb, APOEL Nicosia, Maribor, Inter Turku, Ventspils, Zrinjski, Ekranas, Sheriff Tiraspol, Bohemians, Makedonija, FH Hafnarfjorour, WIT Georgia, BATE Borisov, Levadia, Baku, Tirana, Pyunik, Aktobe, Glentoran, Rhyl, EB, Dudelange, Hibernians (of Malta, not Scotland), Sant Julia, Mogren and Tre Fiori. Scared by any of those? Even heard of most of them? Thought not.
  • The other five places are filled by qualifiers from the ‘Best Placed Path’, which has far less teams in it, but is much harder, both for the reason that only the top fifteen countries have such teams.

So, presumably, Arsenal are in the ‘Best Placed Path’ section. How does it work?

  • There are 2 rounds to this particular competition:
  1. The first round comprises of 10 sides – the third placed side from the sixth ranked country (Russia) and the nine runners up from countries 7-15. This round does not include Arsenal.
  2. The five victors from the first round are then joined by five more teams – fourth placed sides in the top three nations (England, Spain and Italy) and third placed sides in nations 4 and 5 (France and Germany). The ties are drawn randomly (there is no seeding), with the 5 victors going through to the group stages. This is where Arsenal come in.

So who are the teams we could face?

  • The 10 teams in the first round are: Dynamo Moscow, Dinamo Bucharest, Sporting Lisbon, Twente, Celtic, Sivasspor (Turkey), Shakhtar Donetsk, Anderlecht, Panathanaikos, and Sparta Prague. Clearly a much stronger set of teams than those in the Champions Path, and it includes UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar, and a potential Battle of Britain with Celtic.
  • 5 of those teams will get through to a second round draw with Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Fiorentina, Lyon and Stuttgart. The draw is entirely random.
  • Clearly this is a potential nightmare – Lyon always win the French league, but had a bad season and finished third. They would be difficult opponents, as would many others. There aren’t many easy teams there – the weakest will have gone by the time we come in.

What’s the verdict?

Our season could conceivably begin at Celtic Park, in Lyon, Madrid or Florence. Alternatively, we might be facing Jens Lehmann in Stuttgart.

There is no doubt that Platini has made it far more difficult for non-national champions to get into the Champions League, which in fairness is something he always said he would do, but I’m not sure many people realise just how tricky it could be, and won’t until the draw is made later in the summer. The knock on effect (and I’d say this whether Arsenal were automatically in or not) is that the group stages are going to be monumentally dull – this season it was obvious who would get through them, next year that will be the case even more.

Why? Put simply, the reason national champions from smaller countries don’t normally qualify for the group stages is because they aren’t good enough, and get stuffed in the qualifiers. This year, more of these teams are going straight into the group stages to get beaten down every other week. I realise that the point is to get the money distributed to a wider variety of clubs, but the reason the Champions League can offer such huge sums (of TV money, mainly) is because it is a tremendous spectacle. But a competition is only a spectacle if it is competitive. Does anyone really think Rubin Kazan, Unirea Urziceni or AZ have a chance of making it through? The romantics will say that it’s great to see the smaller teams in the group stages, but is it really? The tournament is great to watch when matches are evenly balanced, not when it is patently obvious who will qualify as soon as the draw is made (and that will be the case – seedings dictate that decent sides will be paired with no-hopers). Once again, it won’t get interesting until the knockout stages, once only the decent sides remain to have meaningful games against each other at last.

What is bizarre is this – it will be more difficult for teams to navigate the first qualifying round than the group stage that follows it, because the standard will actually drop once you get there thanks to the low quality automatic entrants. And it won’t help the Europa League either – if we draw Lyon in the qualifying round, the loser will drop into the group stages of the secondary competition and proceed to hammer everyone in it. The standard of the rest of the Europa League is so poor that you can be sure the final will be contested by two Champions League drop outs.

This is, of course, Michel Platini’s design, based on his election promise of supporting the smaller countries (of which there are more, hence his successful election in the first place). Unfortunately, he is contriving to devalue what is so enthralling about our continental competitions.

See you in Lyon in August.

  53 Responses to “Champions League qualification explained – who can Arsenal face?”

  1. no battle of britain with celtic. theyre scottish not british

  2. I wouold imagine AZ would be a decent team considering they are the runaway Dutch champions, agree with the rest though

  3. it is not a random draw, there are seedings in the play-off round


  4. So Ross, we won’t be seeing any Scots in the British team at the next Olympics, eh?
    Anyhow, great detailed article – thanks.

  5. GOONER – I’m certain that information is wrong, I read on UEFA’s official site that the playoff round (their name for round 4, the round we come in) is unseeded.

    Ross – Scotland is part of Britain.

  6. Moscow.

    Can’t imagine anything else…

  7. I have a feeling we’ll play Fiorentina.

  8. just hope it’s not a russian team – they will be well in to their season in august rather than just after pre season..

  9. And yet I’m not really concerned about any of those teams. Celtic have lost their manager, Fiorentina aren’t really that good – well Serie A on a whole isn’t that good. Atletico always fail to impress no matter how much big names and money they spend – they’re literally the Tottenham of Spain. Lyon are a shadow of their former selves and will continue to be so as long as they get a new manager every 6 months. AZ is losing Van Gaal and probably some of their better players after this impressive season. Stuttgart are losing their top scorer to Bayern and they don’t have a competent back up as far as I know. I’m not really being overconfident but I’m not too worried either.

  10. Essentially its a system that we predicted as soon as Plantini took charge. Its a pity but the people in charge of football, and indeed sports like formula one, have less sense than your common goldfish. They don’t understand money and they don’t understand entertainment. In principle it is a good idea, unfortunatley if principle was applied for everything the world would be in such a bad state it would cease to function.

  11. chris:AZ r actually current champions so they`ll make it automatically, fc twenty r runner up.

  12. like u said, this format will definitely make the competition much more uncompetitive. when the tournament become uncompetitive, the money will also drop. but this will also help big teams qualify through the group stage easily and also help them in the league as well. now before knockout stage start, they can just field second string team instead of first team to play those weaker side and concentrate on domestic competition. so this make it harder for other non big teams to get into champion league spot as the big team had easier fixture to deal with. before this, we always see big teams struggle domestically after champion league matches but now the situation totally different.

  13. Ross m8 your really smart !!

  14. Ross, Just because the Scottish behave like animals, it doesn’t mean they’re not British!

  15. not sure about the random draw comments. some of the other sites have suggested seeding comes into play. even then, we could still play fiorentina, stuutgart or atletico – because they are seeded below shakthar, panathinoikos and sporting lisbon. interesting to hear what the real story is…

  16. Great Article. Let’s just hope we will get through. A French or Dutch team does not scare me but they pairing could be rigged.

    I am sure we will get a team from Spain or Italy cos Platterini hates wenger and will do everything to get us out of the way.

  17. I hope celtic get a easier draw and make it to the group stage!! SCOTLAND!

  18. Thanks for that. So many sites I’ve read have explained it poorly.

    Completely agree with you that Platini is a penis. The CL will become a boring spectacle, and the Europe league may be just as exciting because it will have teams of equal skill as in the CL. My major concern is with the lack of seeding. Arsenal has dominated all of Europe bar other English teams and Barca in the last 4 years, yet will not be seeded any higher than Sivissapor or Anderlecht.

    I am still confident we will get through but it is still a very silly system.

  19. This goes to show how important to finish higher than 4th EVERY SEASON! AW knows that, and we hope he will buy some decent players soon.

    If we look at the list of teams in this Non-Champions’ Path, we should not be worried. Apart from Lyon and Shakhtar Donetsk, the next seeded team down in Sporting Lisbon, assuming the draw is an open draw. So the chances of us drawn against a much weaker team like Dinamo Bucharest or Sparta Prague is quite good.

    Problem is of course discussed by earlier replies, that we may meet Celtic, Atletico Madrid or Stuttgart, regardless of whether the draw is open or seeded.

  20. This new format is a stupid thing . A competition must be won by the best team . It’s the same in the qualifiers .

  21. nice detailed article.. very enlightening.. good thing we start pre season in a month..

  22. Since Arsenal is going have a tough test in champion league qualifiers, wenger must buy experienced players to strengthen his squad to avoid disapointments, otherwise it is a big challenge to the club and the fans as well.

  23. i don’t think any club can stop arsenal not to qualify for cl among the remanin teams

  24. I guess this was one of the reasons Wenger infamously rested Arshavin against Chelski in the FA cup. If he had explained this at the time a lot of people would have understood that he was trying to avoid 4th at all costs, but it just seemed he had gone bezerk.

  25. Thanks Ross for confirming Celtic are Scottish not British. AT least British football won’t be linked with that joke of a league you Sweaty Socks have!!!!!

    Celtic are a joke team and should never be allowed to play in Europes major competition, just like the Scottish national team is a laughing stock!

  26. good. it should be made tuffer for non champions. i’m still confident we will go through, and it will be nice to have such an important match so early in the season.

    it must be worth more money than the championship playoff. (the biggest jackpot in football history.)

  27. Thanks for the comments folks – there seem to be mixed reports on whether the final round is seeded or not – one page on UEFA’s site said the draw was open, but some very reputable news organisations are claiming it is seeded.

    I’m not sure whether the news hacks have got it wrong, or if there is a simple mistake on the official site.

    Either way, it doesn’t make a big difference – in truth the unseeded sides (Fiorentina, Atletico, Celtic and Stuttgart) look more dangerous than the seeds (e.g. Panathanaikos).

    Don’t underestimate how dangerous Celtic would be against English opposition (especially with a new manager), and Lehmann would surely put in a performance in goal for Stuttgart.

    Yes, we should still qualify, but it is so much harder now.

  28. Who gives a monkeys toss about losers from Glasgow, or whether they re Scottish, British or UK. Fact is they re shit, and are in a country that can barely beat the Faroe Islands.Just stick em in English League 2 (our 4th league0 and see if they can get promoted. I think not.

  29. wen is the draw which will tell us who we face?

  30. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the TV money once this competition throws up the sacrificial lambs that it surely will, come the group stages.

    I thought it was a competition that was supposed to avoid a super league break-away. Once AC Nobody gets through to get hammered by all and sundry, TV money will reduce and the ‘big clubs’ that get knocked out in the qualifiers get their noses put out of joint, a super league will come one step nearer.

    Nice work Platini!

  31. Scotland do not behave like animals it is rangers fans.

    and Celtic are not shit we have one of the best home records in the champions league and have beaten teams like liverpool, manu, ac milan etc

  32. Typical EPL arrogant bollocks.

  33. Even though epl get 50 times as much money as spl

    celtic are a much bigger club than the 11 out of the 12 epl clubs and would probably finnish in the top four in the epl

    so no english should slag of celtic and look at there own teams

  34. the draw is about the 22nd june

    cmon the hoops

  35. Can’t believe the cheek of some folk.Celtic have proved over the last ten years we can take on anybody.Arsenal?Bring them on.And don’t moan,Arsenal just like us, Celtic, were not good enough and deserve to face a tricky qualifier.HAIL HAIL!

  36. Celtic should be in the group stage because we have won 3 league in a row. Ok Rangers just won the league but we’ve won 6 cups in 4 season and Rangers have only won 3 in 4 seasons

  37. There should be a UEFA BRITISH CUP with Man Utd,Chelsea,Liverpool,Arsnel
    ,Celtic(the best club in the world)
    Rangers,Aberdeen and Hearts.

    Stu 10 years old fae Scotland

  38. Celtic would be in in the prem in no time if they got put in league 2

  39. stu, ye talkk rank mate 3 cups in 4 seasons ? wit stats you gittin like haha.. youse urny gittin in the champions league. hope yees git arsenal nd they hammer yees it the piggery
    scotlands shame – celtic
    52 times champions – ranges ( world record )

  40. here listen ae yersel yeez huv won the spl in yeez hink yer world beaters

    so wit if teez huv won 52 “SPLS” yeez huvny won the big wan yet EUROPEAN CUP

    n bring on arsnel, lyon wel stul pump thum n go futher than use

    n stu wis ryt 6 cups in 4 season
    3 spls, 2 league cups, and a scottish cup

    no wonder yeh support rangers

    cmon the hoops

  41. oh ii n stop coping our scotland shame
    we did it first and embarresed yeez it celtic park

    celtic fur the treble

  42. hope we do get those londoner cunts, we’ll wipe the floor with them,
    we mite not class ourselves as brittish……

    but we were the 1st team from britain to win it,


  43. Hope Celtic get Arsenal and beat them

  44. All of British are scum, England Scotland

  45. get well soon big john hartson, you are a fucking legend!!!!!!

  46. don`t care who we draw arsenal have the strength and depth to beat any of those team in the qualifiers.

  47. cmon the hoops pmsl yees ur scotlands shame, ira songs at a pre season friendly at wembley against an egyptian mob haha SCUM!!

    we hink we ur world beaters ? haha we are in the champions league and u just says youll beat arsenal or lyon to git there , no chance theyll pump yeees nd then we’ll win title number 53
    glasgow rangers champions

  48. and in the last 4 seasons rangers have won 4 cups and 4 seasons not 3 !!

  49. we ur scotlands shame nae teem like yeez every wer yeez go yeez coz riots. doon in destroyed manchester so dont call us scotlands shame scum,scum,scum
    uefa cup final seville 80,000,people not 1 arrest.
    yeez went doon tae manchester in over 100 got arrested so get a grip
    in use embarrass scottish fitbaw

  50. i think its quite a good format to be honest. We need to see a few more champions of smaller nations in the competition. plus, i dont think it’ll actually weaken the tournament too much. there are 22 teams automatically qualified for the group stages. these are the cream of the crop from the top nations. that means on average your gonna get 3 of those in each group. I admit to the fact that the fourth seeded team in each group is gonna probably be quite poor, but because only 2 qualify for the knockouts, it’ll still be very competitive. cant wait for it all to get started.

  51. wow 100 out of 200,000 nd turned out most ae them were the wans fae england so fuck off !

    mon the arsenal !! fuckin gup the cunts !!

    cheerio 4 in a row

  52. they wer no fae england yeez are scum bags. yeez neerly killed a polis in every wer yeez go yees os trouble

    bring oan arsenal we cin be enyteem it parkheed and away lol

  53. Thanks a lot for clearly explaining the new system. It is really good post!
    i was always wondering why Chelsea is in the automatically qualified list for this season, since they r 3rd in the EPL.

    This explains why it is so!

    thanks once again. Lucky Chelsea :)

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