2011 probably will go into history as the year when it all came together for the second year competition; the Europa League. But the journey it took to reach this point wasn’t as easy.
In 1955, it started as a small tournament to promote international trade fairs. It was called Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. It lasted until 1971. The first two cups took place over three and two years, respectively. Later it became a yearly event.
The rules, initially, allowed for one club from each city, with few exceptions, regardless of league position. In the later years it became known as the Runners-Up Cup because it took league position into consideration, but still would not allow more than one club from each city.
Spanish clubs dominated the early years when they won 6 out of the first 8 cups. The English clubs dominated the period between 1968 and 1971 winning four in a raw. Club-wise, Barcelona was the most decorated club with 3 titles out of total 13, including the first ever.
The FC grew from 10 teams in 1955 to 64 in 1971, when UEFA decided to take control of the cup and changed its name to UEFA cup. And in 1975, they dropped the “one city, one club” rule and allowed for more than one club from one city, thanks to the protest by the English club, Everton.
From 1971 to 1999, UEFA Cup didn’t play a second fiddle to the European Cup/UEFA Champions League only, but also to the much less competitive Cup Winners Cup; a competition among the domestic cup winners only. Clubs would go into the CWC even if they are eligible to the UEFA cup.
The CWC, unlike the FC, was organized by UEFA and took place between 1960 and 1999. It was considered by many to be the easiest among all European competitions; although, ironically, no team had managed to win it twice in a row.
For some, like the Arsenal fans, it was considered a cursed cup. Seven different defending champions have reached the final in the following year but all failed to win it again.
In 39 years, there were 32 different winners. 4 teams won it twice and only Barcelona won it more, 4 times total. Country-wise, England won it 8 times and Spain and Italy won it 7 times each.
From 1971 to 1997, the UEFA cup had seen a steady increase in the runners-up representatives. It only lost the domestic league and cup winners. Things started to change after 1997, however. It started to lose more of the runners-up to the UCL.
UEFA noted that the standard of competitions had come down significantly outside the UCL. Therefore, they decide to merge the UEFA cup with the CWC in 1999. And furthermore, in 2005, they decided to let teams that dropped from the UCL qualifying round and the third place finishers in the group stage join the UEFA cup.
These changes elevated the playing standard and the competitiveness to a height; it has never been seen in the UEFA cup before. It almost guaranteed that the best clubs outside the last 16 in the UCL are still involved in soccer when the month of February comes.
In 39 years of the UEFA cup, 26 different teams won it. Italian teams won the most with 9 titles, followed by England, Spain and Germany with 6 each. Club-wise, Liverpool, Juventus and Inter Milan won it a record 3 times.
Here is the overall record of the winners including FC, CWC and UC:
1- Spain: 19
2- England: 18
3- Italy: 17
4- Germany: 11
5- Holland: 5
6- Belgium: 4
7- Ukraine: 3
8- Russia, Portugal, Sweden and Scotland: 2
12- France, Croatia, Hungary, Turkey, Slovakia and Georgia: 1
By clubs: (Only those which won three or more titles)
1- Barcelona: 7
2- Valencia: 4
2- Juventus: 4
4- Liverpool: 3
4- Tottenham: 3
4- Inter Milan: 3
4- Parma: 3
4- Anderlecht: 3
The second leg of the last 16 games will take place on Thursday.
The two televised matches on GolTV are PSG vs. Benfica (2pm) and Liverpool vs Braga (4pm).
The two Portuguese teams are leading on aggregate with one goal.
PSG had the benefit of scoring an away goal. They will go through with 1-0 win.
Liverpool, on the other hand, will need another one of those famous European nights to make it through. Conceding a goal will make things very difficult for them. Both teams have not played since their meeting in Portugal last Thursday.
The third Portuguese team, Porto, fared better with an away win against CSKA Moscow (1-0). But nothing has been won yet. Russian teams are very inconsistent in Europe. One bad performance is usually followed by a great one and vice versa.
The same goes for the other two Russian clubs in their meetings with the Dutch representatives. Spartak won away to Ajax (1-0) while Zenit lost away to Twente (0-3).
The third Dutch team has a difficult trip to the Ibrox, where the hope of the Scottish soccer rests on Rangers. The 0-0 result in Holland is the best by any British team in this round.
Manchester City, the other English club, will need a big performance after losing (2-0) away to Dynamo Kyiv. An away goal on a counter attack by Shevchenko-led Dynamo team would make it almost an impossible mission.
And finally, the only Spanish side left, Villarreal is in the best position, among all 16 teams, to qualify after they won away to the only German side left, Bayer Leverkusen 3-2.
At 2pm EST:
Man City – Dynamo Kyiv (0-2)
PSG – Benfica (1-2)
Spartak Moscow – Ajax (1-0)
Zenit – Twente (0-3)
At 4pm EST:
Liverpool – Braga (0-1)
Villarreal – Bayer Leverkusen (3-2)
Porto – CSKA Moscow (1-0)
Rangers – PSV Eindhoven (0-0)
For more on the last 16, check my previous article.
You can also find other Soccer Report Extra.com contributors on Twitter by following this link.
Please refrain from posting comments that;
The House reserves the right to delete any such comments and to block further participation on the site.