Europa League

The UEFA Europa League (abbreviated as UEL) is an annual football club competition organised by UEFA for eligible European football clubs. Previously known as the UEFA Cup, it replaced the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1971.

Clubs qualify for the competition based on their performance in their national leagues and cup competitions. It is now the second-tier competition of European club football, ranking below the UEFA Champions League and above the UEFA Europa Conference League after being a third-tier competition from 1971 to 1999 before the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup was discontinued.

The competition has been known as the Europa League since the 2009–10 season, following a change in format.

In 1999, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup was abolished and merged with the UEFA Cup. For the 2004–05 competition a group stage was added prior to the knockout phase.

The 2009 re-branding included a merge with the UEFA Intertoto Cup, producing an enlarged competition format, with an expanded group stage and a change in qualifying criteria.

The winner of the UEFA Europa League qualifies for the UEFA Super Cup and, since the 2014–15 season, the following season’s UEFA Champions League, entering at the group stage.

Spanish clubs have the highest number of victories (12 wins), followed by England and Italy (9 wins each). The title has been won by 28 clubs, 13 of which have won it more than once. The most successful club in the competition is Sevilla, with six titles.


The UEFA Cup was preceded by the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was a European football competition played between 1955 and 1971. The competition grew from 11 teams during the first cup (1955–58) to 64 teams by the last cup which was played in 1970–71.

It had become so important on the European football scene that in the end it was taken over by UEFA and relaunched the following season as the UEFA Cup.

The UEFA Cup was first played in the 1971–72 season, with an all-English final of Wolverhampton Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur, with Spurs taking the first honours.

The title was retained by another English club, Liverpool, in 1973, who defeated Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final. Gladbach would win the competition in 1975 and 1979, and reach the final again in 1980.

Feyenoord won the cup in 1974 after defeating Tottenham Hotspur 4–2 on aggregate (2–2 in London, 2–0 in Rotterdam). Liverpool won the competition for the second time in 1976 after defeating Club Brugge in the final.

During the 1980s, IFK Göteborg (1982 and 1987) and Real Madrid (1985 and 1986) won the competition twice each, with Anderlecht reaching two consecutive finals, winning in 1983 and losing to Tottenham Hotspur in 1984.

The year 1989 saw the commencement of the Italian clubs’ domination when Diego Maradona’s Napoli defeated VfB Stuttgart.

The 1990s started with two all-Italian finals, and in 1992, Torino lost the final to Ajax on the away goals rule. Juventus won the competition for the third time in 1993 and Internazionale kept the cup in Italy the following year.

The year 1995 saw a third all-Italian final, with Parma proving their consistency, after two consecutive Cup Winners’ Cup finals.

The only final with no Italians during that decade was in 1996.

Internazionale reached the final the following two years, losing in 1997 to Schalke 04 on penalties, and winning yet another all-Italian final in 1998, taking home the cup for the third time in only eight years.

Parma won the cup in 1999, which ended the Italian-domination era. By chance, it was the last UEFA Cup/Europa League final appearance for any Italian club until Internazionale reached the final in 2020.

The era of the 2000s began with Galatasaray’s victory, the only Turkish team winning the trophy until that time.

Liverpool won the competition for the third time in 2001. In 2002, Feyenoord became winners for the second time in club history by defeating Borussia Dortmund 3–2 in the final played in their own stadium, De Kuip in Rotterdam.

Porto triumphed in the 2003 and 2011 tournaments, with the latter victory coming against fellow Portuguese side Braga.

In 2004, the cup returned to Spain with Valencia being victorious, and then Sevilla succeeded on two consecutive occasions in 2006 and 2007, the latter in a final against fellow Spaniards Espanyol.

Either side of Sevilla’s success, two Russian teams, CSKA Moscow in 2005 and Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2008, had their glory and yet another former Eastern European club, Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk, won in 2009, the first Ukrainian side to do so.

Atlético Madrid would themselves win twice in three seasons, in 2010 and 2012, the latter in another all-Spanish final between them and Athletic Bilbao. In 2013, Chelsea would become the first Champions League holders to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League the following year.

In 2014, Sevilla won their third cup in eight years after defeating Benfica on penalties. Just one year later, in 2015, Sevilla won their fourth UEFA Cup/Europa League and, in an unprecedented feat, they defended their title the third year in a row beating Liverpool in 2016, making them the most successful team in the history of the competition with five titles.

They added a further sixth title in 2020, after defeating Inter Milan in the final.



Qualification for the competition is based on UEFA coefficients, with better entrance rounds being offered to the more successful nations. In practice, each association has a standard number of three berths, except:

  • Nations ranked 52 and 53 (Andorra and San Marino in the 2013–14 season), which have two berths
  • The nation ranked 54 (Gibraltar in the 2014–15 season) that has one berth.
  • Liechtenstein, which qualifies only the Cup winners

Usually, each country’s places are awarded to teams who finish in various runners-up places in its top-flight league and the winner of the main cup competition.

Typically the teams qualifying via the league are those in the highest places not eligible for the UEFA Champions League; however, the Belgian league awards one place via a playoff between First A and First B teams.

A number of countries have secondary cup competitions, but only the winners of England’s EFL Cup are currently granted a UEFA Europa League place. Prior to its discontinuation in 2020–21, France offered a place to the winners of the Coupe de la Ligue.

A team may qualify for European competitions through more than one route.

In all cases, if a club is eligible to enter the UEFA Champions League then the Champions League place takes precedence and the club does not enter the UEFA Europa League.

The UEFA Europa League place is then granted to another club or vacated if the maximum limit of teams qualifying for European competitions is exceeded.

If a team qualifies for European competition through both winning a cup and league placing, the “spare” UEFA Europa League place will go to the highest placed league team which has not already qualified for European competition, depending on the rules of the national association, or vacated, if the described limit is reached.

The top three ranked associations may qualify for the fourth berth if both the Champions League and Europa League champions are from that association and do not qualify for European competition through their domestic performance. In that case, the fourth-placed team in that association will join the Europa League instead of the Champions League, in addition to their other qualifying teams.

More recently, clubs that are knocked out of the qualifying round and the group stage of the Champions League can also join the UEFA Europa League, at different stages.

Formerly, the reigning champions qualified to defend their title, but since 2015 they qualify for the Champions League. From 1995 to 2015, three leagues gained one extra place via the UEFA Respect Fair Play ranking.


UEFA coefficients were introduced in 1980 and, until 1999, they gave a greater number of berths in UEFA Cup to the more successful nations.

Three nations had four places, five nations had three places, thirteen nations had two places, and eleven nations only one place.

Since 1999, a similar system has been used for the UEFA Champions League. Before 1980, the entrance criteria of the last Fairs Cup was used.

Current format

In the 2009–10 season, the competition was rebranded as the UEFA Europa League in a bid to increase the competition’s profile. An extra 8 teams now qualify for the group stage consisting of 12 groups with four teams each (in a double round-robin), with teams finishing on the top two places in each group progressing.

The competition then progresses in much the same way as the previous format, with four rounds of two-legged knockout rounds and a one-off final held at a neutral ground that meets UEFA’s Category Four stadium criteria. The final is played in May, on the Wednesday ten days before the Champions League final.

The qualification has changed significantly.

Associations ranked 7–9 in the UEFA coefficients sent the cup winners and three (two since 2015–16 season) other teams to the UEFA Europa League qualification, all other nations sent a cup winner and two other teams, except Andorra and San Marino, who sent only a cup winner and a runner-up, and Liechtenstein, who sent only a cup winner.

Since Gibraltar was accepted as a full UEFA member at the UEFA Congress held in London on 24 May 2013, their cup winner also qualified for Europa League. Usually, the other teams will be the next highest ranked clubs in each domestic league after those qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, but France and England will continue to use one spot for their league cup winners.

With the abolition of the Intertoto Cup, all participants of the Europa League are qualified through domestic routes. Generally, the higher an association is ranked in the UEFA coefficients, the later its clubs start in the qualification.

However, every team except for the title-holder (up to 2014–15 season) and the highest-ranked teams (usually the cup winner and/or the best Europa League qualified team) from the top (six in 2012–15 seasons, 12 since 2015–16 season) associations had to play at least one qualification round.

Apart from the teams mentioned, all teams eliminated in the Champions League preliminary round, qualifying rounds and play-off round are transferred to the Europa League. The 12 winners and the 12 runners-up in the group stage advanced to the knockout round, together with eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group stage.

In 2014, the distribution was changed to broaden the appeal of the competition, namely through giving the Europa League champions a Champions League qualification berth, which has been used since.

More teams automatically qualify for the group stage. If cup winners had already qualified for European competition through league performance, their place through the league is vacated and goes to the best-ranked teams not qualified for European competition.

This means that the cup runner-up is no longer qualified through the cup berth. These rules came into effect for the 2015–16 season.