One of the greatest competitions that there is, is back and rearing to go. The Champions League is not only one of the greatest in Europe but also followed across the globe with much enthusiasm. EADF Writer Varun Purty gives us a detailed explanation on how the Champions League qualifiers work!
THE Champions league is responsible for pitting teams against each other, which are gigantic in their respective leagues, as well as bringing world-class players and idols of many countries to compete against each other and prove their mettle. But being a part of this league, means that the team is a reigning champion or the domestic league winners or were contenders of their league. It is one of the most elite leagues to play in, and not every team can be a part of it. Teams which have fought their way to the top and have managed to cement their place despite all the challenges hurled towards themselves, are a part of the draw of the Champions League, and are able to bring the elite competition’s candidates to their stadiums for a brawl. However, it may happen that certain teams are not able to come forth as nominees for the title directly by their league position. These teams however, still have a second chance, or a ray of hope to be part of the exclusive league. UEFA, the authoritative board responsible for the functioning of the League, give teams like these a brisk chance, and if these teams are able to take their chances, they may as well qualify. Moreover, the teams which play such matches for qualification are given a fair and equal chance of qualifying and playing. UEFA, makes it a point that all teams which qualify as per the rules are able to represent their league. It gives each winning team an equal chance as well as makes it a point that the all leagues are taken into consideration, thus showing that each footballing nation which has its own league is recognized by UEFA, and in general showing and emphasising the fact that “Football is for all”.
The process of selecting the teams for the final few slots are done through the process of qualifiers. The qualifiers are a long, complete and fool proof way of selecting the teams which are eligible for the competition. We shall now guide you through the procedure and also show which teams are in contention for the spots, and against whom they may have to battle it out for making it to the exclusive league. A point which needs to be realized beforehand is the fact that the process of the teams playing in their respective qualification rounds depends on two important things. It depends on the coefficient ranking of the teams, as well as the coefficient ranking of the European nations. Each team has a coefficient ranking based on the performances, both current and previous outings of theirs’. For example, Spain have the highest coefficient ranking. Hence they have four qualification spots in the Champions League. This is also applicable to the domestic leagues of Germany and England. An example of coefficient rankings of team will be of Real Madrid as they are team ranked first by UEFA with coefficient ranking of over 170 points.
The first seven national coefficient ranking teams chronologically are Spain, Germany, England, Italy, France, Russia and Portugal. Therefore, the teams to be selected for the playoffs are from these leagues only. Now that this is decided, the teams with the highest coefficient rankings are selected, keeping in mind the first four spots. Hence the teams who qualify chronologically according to their rankings are Sevilla, Napoli, Liverpool, and Sporting CP. The last qualification spot requires considering the national spot too, for the 5th team. Hence, when the last qualification spot decider between Nice and Hoffenheim was to be decided, since Hoffenheim belonged to German League, they were considered for the 5th spot. And Nice, were to play in the third round of the Champions League Qualifiers. Now as soon as the qualification process splits its route into two parts, the Champions Route and the League Route, from the third round, the coefficient of the club matters. This is the reason that Nice, plays Ajax in the third round. Ajax although has a higher coefficient ranking than many teams including Liverpool, but here in comes the role of the Coefficient rankings of the nations. Ajax although having a higher coefficient ranking, do not qualify directly for the Playoffs because of the coefficient ranking of the Netherlands. Netherlands sit on the 11th spot in the National Coefficient ranking of UEFA. Now that the 5 teams for the playoffs have been decided, with the world also being made to realize the teams participating in the Third round of the Champions League, let us see which teams have made it to the third round which is to be played from 25th/26th July.
The process kicked off after sixteen days of the Champions League Final in Cardiff. After Real Madrid clinched a 4–1 victory over Juventus, in the Principality Stadium of Wales; the headquarters in Nyon, were witness to the draws of the first round. The first round of draw saw ten teams compete with each other, where the teams belonged to the European nations such as “Faroe Islands”, “Malta”, “Estonia”, “Kosovo”, “Wales”, “Northern Islands” and other European nations. These nations play in the European Qualifiers also. The reason for selecting them for the first round was that the teams belonged to the domestic league of such nations, whose coefficient ranking is very low. In case of Kosovo it is 0.00. The teams that qualified from the first round were “Vikingur” from Faroe Islands, “Hibernians” from Malta, “Alashkert” from Armenia, “The New Saints” from Wales and “Leinfield” from Northern Islands. After this, the second draw came out where in these teams were joined with other 29 teams form other European nations who were ranked low in the coefficient ranking system of the nations by UEFA. The teams which joined them in the second draw were teams which have been in the footballing leagues of countries like Cyprus, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Israel, Croatia, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Slovenia, Poland, Scotland and many other countries. The second round matches were played on 11th/12th July and 18th/19th July, home and away legs respectively. Out of these matches, the results were almost as predicted by footballing pundits, except for a few. And one of the matches was also decided on away goals. There were a total of 34 fixtures out of which 17 teams qualified for the third round. The results of the second round are as follows:
· APOEL, a team from Cyprus defeated Dudelange of Luxembourg 2–0 over aggregate, scoring one on each match.
· Ludogrets Razgard, the Bulgarian team defeated the Lithuanian team, Zalginis 5–3 on aggregate.
· Qarabag, the team from Azerbaijan crushed their opponents Samtredia, a Georgian team 6–0 on aggregate.
· Serbian team Partizan were winners over Buducnost Podgorcia, a team from Montenegro. This was the only team which represented Montenegro in the European competition.
· Salzburg, the Austrian team, the sister team of RZ Leipzig, destroyed their opponents, Hibernians of Malta 6–0 on aggregate.
· Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova, won over their opponents on away goals. The aggregate score being 2–2. They are the only team to represent Moldova in this league and are still going strong.
· Astana of Kazakhstan, defeats their opponents 2–1. Their opponents being Spartaks Jurmala from Latvia.
· BATE Borisov, a Belarusian Team defeats Alashkert 4–2 on aggregate. Alashkert hailing from Armenia.
· Kobenhaven from Denmark defeated Zilina of Slovakia. The aggregate score being 4–3.
· The Israeli team, Hapoel Beer-Sheva defeated the Hungarian team Honved, 5–3 on aggregate.
· Croatian team, Rijeka were winners over The New Saints of Wales thereby defeating them 7–1 on aggregate.
· A surprise being the match between Malmo, the Sweden team and Vardar of the Macedonian team. Vardar defeated Malmo 4–2 on aggregate, where everyone was expecting Malmo to at least feature in the third round if not for the play offs. This team is known to be the youth team of Ibrahimovic.
· Slovenian team Maribor, defeat Zrinjiski 3–2 on aggregate. This was one of the exciting matches as the score of the first leg mattered, as Maribor were defeated on the second leg, which was their home match.
· Norwegian team, Rosenberg were winners over Irish team, Dundalk. The Norwegian team should have had a comfortable win but the Irish side showed a lot of resilience. The aggregate score 3–2.
· The Israeli side, FH Hafnarfjordur were winners over Vikingur. 3–1 being the aggregate score.
· Celtic marched on to the third round by defeating Linfield 6–0 on aggregate.
· Legia Warszawa, the Polish side who had also played last season against Real Madrid in a group match behind closed doors due to UEFA’s disciplinary decisions, defeated their opponents IFK Mariehamn, a Finnish team 9–0 on aggregate.
This meant that these 17 teams were to go through, to the third round where they were to be joined with 13 other teams. These 13 teams were a mixed bag, where, among the 13 teams were winners of the football leagues of Greece, Czech Republic and Romania. Other teams were from France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Turkey. The third round also features Ajax, who were second in the Dutch League and finalists in the Europa League as well. It is in this round where the spilt between the Champions Route and the League Route takes place. The Champions Route simply meaning that the teams which have escalated to the next round. The League Round is, where there is a match between the teams who have qualified on the basis of their league position. For example, the match between Nice and Ajax, who were third and second in their leagues respectively. The matches from now on do heat up as they are a total of seven domestic league winners playing in this round for a qualification spot for the Champions League. Let us now take a look into the important fixtures which take part in the third round as well as take a look at the players which we need to look out for as these players can impact the match:
· The first mouth-watering fixture between the winners of Greece, AEK Athens and CSKA Moskova, the runners up of the Russian League. The Russian league runners up were also subject to the rules and regulations laid down by UEFA and hence have to start their qualification procedure from the third round.
· The second jewel of a match being the match between FCSB of Romania and Viktoria Plzen of Czech Republic. Both the teams were comfortable winners in the respective leagues and now it boils down to this as to who will proceed to the next round. It will be interesting if these sides are pitted against Hoffenheim as that will be one great competition.
· The third match being between Dynamo Kyiv and Young Boys. The Ukrainian and Swiss side both stood second in their leagues respectively, and it will be an enthralling match as whoever is the winner may have to either play against Sevilla or Napoli and it will be very difficult, if not next to impossible, to go through to the Champions League if the winners of this fixture is pitted against them.
· The most awaited match being the match of the titans of this round. Nice are pitted against Ajax. Ajax although have an upper hand as they were finalists in the Europa league. However, this will be a match worth watching as both the squads have some amazing strikers. Nice have been carried to this stage by rejuvenated Mario Balotelli, who has found his form and composure after leaving Liverpool. Here he again as a chance to prove his critics that the “Super Mario” still has it in him. Ajax on the other hand have Kasper Dolberg. Considered by many as the next Zlatan, the Denmark born player has been in marvelous form and is already being considered as a backup by Zinedine Zidane if the bid for Mbappe does not go through. Although in the great words of Zlatan, “There is only one Zlatan”, it will be a treat to watch these two strikers play it out for their teams.
· The fifth league match being between the Belgium side, Club Brugge and Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir. The Turkish side are for the first time playing in such a high level. Although they have an element of surprise as well, as this team has come second in the Turkish league beating the likes of Galatasary. Galatasary is the club who has recently released Wesley Sneijder. They are also known to be home to one of the most hostile stadiums ever to play at.
· Another classic match is the fixture in which Celtic play Rosenberg. Rosenberg being the Norwegian Champions do have experience and form by their side but Rosenberg did have to survive a scare in order to reach the third round. Celtic on the other hand have a huge upper hand as they have won, one sided in their domestic league amassing a point tally of 106 points, where they had 34 wins and 4 draws. Celtic also have in hand, hot properties of football in the form of young talents of Osumanne Dembele, whose signature is being pursued by many footballing giants.
· Another match between league winners is that of the winners of Israel and Bulgaria. The Israel side, Hapoel Beer Sheva is going to take on Ludogrets. Ludogrets has been one of the teams who has been appearing on a regular basis in the recent seasons in the Champions League. Ludogrets and Beer Sheva both have almost had the same fate last season. Both have finished first in their season, both have amassed over 80 points in their respective leagues. Both have also defeated their opponents 5–3 in order to reach to the third round of the Qualifying process. It will be an interesting match off between these two to see that now, when both have shared almost the same luck, who will luck favor so that they qualify for the playoffs. Although considering the experience, the Ludogrets team have a slight advantage to their opponents. And if they go through, it will be interesting to see as to who they will face in the playoffs.
The round 3 commences on 25th/26th July, with the second leg being on 1st/2nd August. The winners from Round 3, a total of 15 teams will be joined by 5 remaining teams namely Sevilla, Napoli, Liverpool, Sporting CP and Hoffenheim. These in total sum up to 20 teams out of which only 10 teams will come out as winners of the Playoff rounds. These 10 teams will then join the remaining 22 teams who have already secured a berth in the Champions League and then the total of 32 teams will be ready for the draw of the Champions’ League group stage which takes place on 24th August, 2017. The first match takes place on 12th/13th September, 2017 and till then one needs to watch out, which teams qualify for the most elite competition on the planet.