Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012/13 Europa League Contenders - Part 2: Spain, France, Netherlands and Belgium

Terry is back with some more contenders for next season's Europa League. Warning: Contains playoffs


Qualification spots: 3 (Two from the league and one from the Cup)

If you’ve spent any time hangin’ with the Football hipsters on Twitter then you’ll be right across the exploits of Athletic Club Bilbao and their eccentric coach, Marcelo Bielsa. The Basque club are whipping up a storm in this season’s Europa League after knocking out Manchester United and spanking Bundesliga club, Schalke 04, in the Quarter Finals.

Well you can be certain of one thing and that the Bilbao club will be back in next year’s competition after reaching the final of the Spanish Cup. There they will play Barcelona who, barring a freakish occurrence, will be back in the Champions League next season. Whether, Bielsa and his midfield wunderkind Iker Muniain will still be at the San Mames remains to be seen.

The remaining two places could be filled from the reluctant Valencia (another current quarter finalist) and Malaga who are vying for a Champions League place. Another contender is Levante in sixth place but given their modest European history you imagine that Valencia’s other club would consider Europa League football a significant achievement. From seventh downwards there are a clutch of clubs who would see a top eight place as realistic. These include Europa League holders, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Sevilla and Getafe.


Qualification spots: 3 (One from the league, one from the French Cup and one from the French League Cup) 

Given that there are no prizes from fifth downwards in Ligue 1 it comes as little surprise to learn that the French top flight has a reputation for being a little uninteresting. At present,the fourth place spot that results in a place in the Europa League belongs to Lyon. However, OM are also in the final of the League Cup so if they win then the likelihood is that the fifth placed team will get the nod.

However, in fifth pace and level on points with Lyon are Toulouse so nothing is certain. Beneath them is a four point gap to sixth placed Saint Etienne. The French Cup Final is down to its final four with two lower division clubs making up the quartet. Gazelec Ajaccio play in the third tier of French football and face Lyon. Meanwhile, Gazelec’s fellow third division side US Quevilly will play Stade Rennais. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of these teams will play in Europe next season. Eat your heart out Birmingham City.

The Netherlands

Qualification spots: 4 (Three from the league and one from the Cup) 

The 2013 Europa League Final will be hosted in Amsterdam so the participants will be keen to make it a Dutch affair in the Amsterdam ArenA. The Netherlands operate a playoff system for the final remaining Europa League spot. This is a four team competition between fifth, sixth and seventh and eighth places.

The title is being contested between Ajaz, AZ, Twente, PSV, Feyenoord and Heerenveen. That’s four points covering the top six team. Whoever finishes second goes into the Champions league qualifier. That leaves third and fourth to go straight in the qualifying rounds for next season’s Europa League.

With regards to a playoff, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there are clubs, closer to the bottom of the table than the top who are in with a shout of landing a Europa League spot. At the time of writing there are four points between NEC in eighth place and Heracles in thirteenth. Of course, there is a lot of teams to negotiate on the way but it does seem mildly bonkers to think that a team that is sixth from bottom of the league may end up playing in Europe next season but hey, it’s their league and if makes them happy...

Heracles’ best chance of going through is by beating PSV in the KNVB Beker Final (That’s the Dutch Cup to you and me) which takes place on 8th April.


Qualification spots: 2 (Two from the league and one from the Cup) 

I'm trying to work out if the Belgian qualification route to the Europa League is incredibly complicated or, terribly straightforward. Belgium decides is Championship, European and relegation places by an elaborate playoff system (well, elaborate to me anyway).

That means that, as far as I can make out, anyone from Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Gent, Standard Liege, Kortrijk or Genk could win the League, qualify for the Champions League or the Europa League. The winners of Groups A and B of “Playoff 2” will then play the fourth placed team in “Playoff 1” in yet another playoff for the final Europa League spot.

Cup winners, Sporting Lokeren have already qualifiers and the only certainty in what appears, from the outside at least, to be a bonkers format. All this effort for two places.

 As a famous fictional Frenchman once said, “These Belgians are crazy.”

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