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European Cups

Champions League and UEFA Cup near end of complicated process.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Monday May 1, 2000) --Two weeks ago, England’s soccer fans were beside themselves in anticipation of the climatic matches of the two big European club competitions: the Champions League and the UEFA Cup.

Many believed the Champions League would end up in a showdown between Premier League powers Manchester United and Chelsea, while the UEFA Cup final would be a match-up between Arsenal and Leeds United.

Arsenal did its part, but none of the other English sides cooperated in this dream. Rather the Champions League semifinal will look like a normal Sunday in Spain, with three Spanish clubs among the final four. Bayern Munich will try to prevent first Real Madrid from reaching the final and then hopefully will play the winner of the Valencia-Barcelona semi-final.

In the UEFA Cup competition, Arsenal will take on perhaps the hottest team in Europe over the past 90 days, Turkey's Galatasaray.

In the Champions League, a home-and-home aggregate-goals competition, Valencia will play Barcelona on tomorrow. On Wednesday, on ESPN2 at 2:30 p.m. (ET), Real Madrid will take on Bayern Munich.

Next week, the return legs will be Bayern-Real on May 9 and Barcelona-Valencia on May 10. The two semi-final winners will meet for the championship in one match on May 24 in Paris' Stade de France.

The UEFA Cup is down to its championship. Arsenal will meet Galatasaray May 17 in Copenhagen.

There is confusion among many American soccer fans about these tournaments. So here is a kind of basic primer on inter-European competitions.

Both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup are sponsored by Europe’s governing body UEFA, the "Union des Associations Européennes de Footbal" which is composed of the 50 national football associations in European countries. The premier competition is the Champions League, a 72-team round robin which starts in August and does not finish until the championship match in May.

The secondary competition is the UEFA Cup which is also contested from September until May.

Teams from all 50 national associations are eligible. UEFA ranks the quality of play in all 50 countries according a extremely complicated mathematical formula. A total of 72 teams become eligible for the Champions League based on their finish in their respective domestic leagues. An additional 145 teams become eligible for the UEFA Cup competition.

The Champions League's defending titlist, plus 15 other so-called "Group 1" clubs, mainly the top and second-place finishers in the biggest and most powerful professional leagues, automatically go through to Champions League group play. Fifty-six additional teams are Champion League "eligible" and go through a three-stage qualification elimination tournament starting in August. The final 16 join the defending champion and the 15 Group 1 teams in the final 32-team field, while the last 24 to be eliminated join the UEFA Cup field at what amounts to its third round stage.

The main difference between the two competitions is that the Champions League is round robin through a series of group competitions before getting to the aggregate-goal knockout quarterfinal round. UEFA Cup, with its much larger field, is single elimination from the start.

These competitions should not be confused with the European Championships for national team sides that is also UEFA sponsored and held two years before and after the World Cup. This year's version, Euro 2000 will be held in June and co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands.

They should also not be confused with domestic cup competitions, such as the FA Cup (for Football Association), which is an annual competition among English teams, or dozens of other similar domestic competitions held all across Europe each year.

There is also the Intertoto Cup, a third UEFA sponsored, 60-club competition that occurs in the summer between teams that did not compete in the Champions League or UEFA Cup.

Two other long standing UEFA sponsored competitions -- the Cup Winners Cup tournament and the Super Cup tournament -- are no longer held because of the expanded Champions League and UEFA Cup fields.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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