UEFA Cup: History and Competition Format

Inception and history || Competition format



Early in April 1955, representatives of twelve cities remarkable for their trade fairs (Barcelona, Birmingham, Vienna, Copenhagen, London, Frankfurt, Basel, Milan, Zagreb, Stockholm, Lausanne, and Leipzig) held a meeting in Rheinfelden (Switzerland) in order to create a new European inter-clubs competition which highlighted the charm and feasts of the participant cities. The idea was successful, and on a further meeting held in Basel on April 10 among UEFA representatives and city halls officials, it was approved the creation of Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (Messestädte Pokal), with participating teams from the cities above plus others like Brussels, Budapest, Moscow, and Paris. UEFA, which earlier in 1955 had refused to organize Champions Cup (the competition proposed by the French maganize L'Équipe), gave the green light to Fairs Cup because it was a risk-proof proposal: the cities themselves would undertake all the organization expenses and other responsibilities.

This meant the inception of the first European competition ever, a month before the creation of Champions Cup. Unlike the latter, Fairs Cup wasn't as popular, because it wasn't an "official" competition organized by UEFA and its influence didn't reach beyond the limits of those cities. As a matter of fact, its first edition spanned over three years (1955-1958), as a result of the problems to find available dates outside the official competition calendar of UEFA and domestic tournaments. The first participants represented the following cities: Barcelona, Copenhagen, Vienna, Milan, Birmingham, Zagreb, Lausanne, Leipzig, Köln, London, Frankfurt, and Basel. In some cases, they weren't real clubs but local selections (Select XI) with players from different teams of the city. It was even the case that some clubs participated simultaneously in Fairs Cup and Champions Cup during its first years, which shows the marginal interest of this competition.

However, Fairs Cup had a growing success and after its second edition (played along a period of "only" two years, 1958-1960) gained more prestige. The number of participant teams increased (not only cities with trade fairs), and even in the case of those cities with local selections, the trend was to participate with real clubs. A Committee was created to establish the rules and calendar of the competition, which from that moment on would be played along a one-year season, running parallel with the two official UEFA competitions: Champions Cup and the newly born Cup Winners' Cup. In order to highlight the identity of the tournament, teams were not allowed anymore to participate simultaneously in Fairs Cup and UEFA competitions. New cities joined the founders: Beograd, Lyon, Budapest, Brussels, Hannover, Rome, Edinburgh, Novi Sad, Brno, Lisbon, Berlin, Valencia... Some of them were represented by two teams, which almost eradicated the idea of local selections.

In time, Fairs Cup became a tournament reserved for runners-up of domestic championships (even for some winners of countries which couldn't participate in Champions Cup). From 1971 on, UEFA undertook the organization of this competition and Fairs Cup became "official" under the new name of UEFA Cup (C3). To decide which team would keep the Fairs Cup trophy, the autonomous committee that had organized this competition until then celebrated an "absolute" final between its first champion (Barcelona CF) y and the last winner (Leeds United AFC).

UEFA didn't change significantly the competition format of this tournament, although the entries were systematized, so that only runners-up and other best qualified teams in domestic Leagues could access the tournament. In 1974, UEFA introduced the present Country Ranking System, in order to assign the number of berths to the different countries according to the progress of their teams. Finally, in 1999, UEFA Cup merged with Cup Winners' Cup (C2) in a single tournament known as New UEFA Cup. This was basically a sequel of C3 expanded with new teams coming from C2, so it is commonly referred to as UEFA Cup (C3).



When this tournament was created in 1955 under the name of Inter-Cities' Fairs Cup, only those teams from cities with trade fairs could participate. The competition system was based on different knock-out rounds leading to a final, also played on a home-and-away basis. In time, Fairs Cup's participants were extended with runners-up and other highly qualified teams of domestic Leagues that couldn't access any of the other European competitions: Champions Cup (C1) and Cup Winners' Cup (C2). The tournament format remained basically the same, although more rounds were introduced to allow for a higher number of teams. The change of name (UEFA Cup) after the European football organism took control of it in 1971 didn't bring substantial changes to the competition, although the introduction of UEFA Country Ranking (UCR) regularized the access of participants.

From season 1994-95 on, when only 24 League champions could access C1, the remaining domestic winners were relegated to play UEFA Cup. Later, there were also extra berths in this competition for winners of Intertoto Cup (IC) and Fair Play (ranking of countries whose teams receive the fewest cautions).

Until 1999, the berth distribution in UEFA Cup (with minor variations to allow for the increasing number of participants and other additional factors) was as follows:

Total: 118 (or more) participants.

As an example, the following competition format was used in season 1996-97 (see further seasons for an explanatory introduction):

This format remained basically the same during season 1997-98, except for the fact that the 24 League champions of countries with the lowest ranking in UCR didn't participate in C3, but in C1, and the 16 losers of Second Qualifying Round of C1 accessed UEFA Cup. Another major change was the introduction of a single-game final at a neutral venue (instead of the usual home-and-away final).

The main novelty introduced in season 1998-99 of C3 was the so-called "golden goal" in finals, namely, a definitive goal scored in extra time that gives the victory to a team with no need to play any longer. After some critics by players and trainers, this rule was later suppressed, from season 2002-03 on, and replaced by the so-called "silver goal": should a final end with a draw after regulation, an extra time of just 15 minutes will be played. If a team finishes that period with advantage in the score, the game is over. If the draw still remains, the second half of the extra time will be necessary. Ultimately, a penalty shoot-out will decide the winner.

In a meeting held in Lisbon on October 6, 1998, UEFA decided to modify the competition format of C1, C2, and C3, under the pressure of the most powerful teams and private TV channels in Europe. This new model started in season 1999-2000, with the merge of UEFA Cup (C3) and Cup Winners' Cup (C2) in a single tournament called New UEFA Cup. Since it was basically a sequel of C3 extended with domestic Cup winners, the new tournament was known simply as "UEFA Cup." Originally, the new competition included 112 participants depending on UCR and 30 more teams depending on different factors. The competition system of C3 for the season 1999-2000 (base of further seasons) was as follows:

QUALIFYING ROUND (76 teams): Third-placed teams in Leagues of countries ranked 9-21 in UCR corresponding to the period 1994-1998, plus runners-up in Leagues of countries ranked 16-49 in the former UCR (except Liechtenstein), plus the League champion of Andorra, plus Cup champions of countries ranked 22-49 in the former UCR, plus 3 teams qualified via Fair Play. Total games: 38.

FIRST ROUND (96 teams): 38 survivors of previous round, plus sixth-placed teams in Leagues of countries ranked 1-3 in UCR corresponding to the period 1994-1998, plus fifth-placed teams in Leagues of countries ranked 1-8 in the former UCR, plus fourth-placed teams in Leagues of countries ranked 4-8 in the former UCR, plus third-placed teams in Leagues of countries ranked 7-8 in the former UCR, plus Cup champions of countries ranked 1-21 in the former UCR, plus 3 teams qualified via Intertoto Cup 2000, plus 16 losers of Third Qualifying Round of Champions League 1999-2000. Total games: 48.

SECOND ROUND (48 teams): 48 survivors of the previous round. Total games: 24.

THIRD ROUND (32 teams): 24 survivors of the previous round plus 8 third-placed teams in First Group-Match Stage of Champions League 1999-2000. Total games: 16.

FOURTH ROUND (16 teams): 16 survivors of the previous round. Total games: 8.

QUARTER FINALS (8 teams): 8 survivors of the previous round. Total games: 4.

SEMI FINALS (4 teams): 4 survivors of the previous round. Total games: 2.

FINAL (2 teams): The 2 winners of 1/2 Finals play a single game at a predetermined venue.

For the 2004-05 season, a new format for the competition was introduced: After two preliminary rounds and a first round, the 40 survivors advance to a group stage (similar to the final stage of Champions League), comprising eight groups of five teams each, with two home and two away matches per club. The winners, runners-up and third-placed clubs from each group advance to a First Knock-Out Round, where they are joined with the eight third-placed teams after the League Stage of Champions League. At this point, the traditional two-match format is used with the exception of the single-match final.


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