The Europa League campaign for Olympique Marseille, Leicester and PSV Eindhoven might have been over as they only finished third at the group stage. However, their hope for lifting the continental title is not over yet as they could still lift a trophy in the third tier competition, UEFA Conference League.
This year’s Conference League is its first edition with some of the well-known European teams which participate in this new competition such as AS Roma, Feyenoord, FC Basel and Rennes have been through to the knockout stage. The round of 16 will be held in February or a month earlier than the Champions and Europa League. However, there will be a playoff knockout stage before the round of 16 begins. This is where those eight third-place teams from Europa League, including Marseille, Leicester City and PSV Eindhoven will be included. They are fighting over their last chance for European title against the groups’ runner up in this championship to seal eight spots in the round of 16.
Apparently, Jorge Sampaoli’s men, The Foxes and PSV are not the only three relegated to this fairly new tournament. The other five unfortunate teams are Fenerbahce, Sparta Prague, Celtic, Rapid Vienna and FC Midjylland. Their expected oppositions are PAOK, Randers, Slavia Prague, Bodo Glimt, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Qarabaq and Partizan Belgrade. One game between Tottenham and Rennes is still delayed due to the COVID-19 contraction in Spurs. It is a decisive match for Harry Kane and Co as they need three points to advance. If they fail, then it would be the end of their continental campaign this season for Antonio Conte’s side.
UEFA Conference League has just been inaugurated this season. This is UEFA’s first third tier competition since the abolishment of Cup Winners Cup in 1999. It was merged with UEFA Cup in 1999/2000 season before transforming into Europa League in 2009. Between 1971 and 1999, the European football governing body put UEFA Cup as the third tier continental competition with much better prestige than the current Conference League. It is mainly due to the fact that the top five European leagues were allowed to have three teams to compete each season at that time while today they are only given one berth in the Conference League. This year’s edition’s final will be staged in Arena Kombetare, Tirana, Albania on May 25th. The Champions of this tournament will earn one automatic slot in Europa League group stage in the following season.