The competitive nature of this season's UEFA Europa League is making a crucial contribution to the new competition's standing in its second season.
At the quarter-final and semi-final draw in Nyon, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino spoke of the excitement and surprises that have accompanied the competition as the final in Dublin moves ever closer.
"As you are well aware, the inaugural season was an outstanding success in all respects and the current campaign has consolidated the impetus and status of this new competition," he said. "It has offered the fans drama, excitement and football of a very high quality. The UEFA Europa League is proving to be extremely competitive. This can be illustrated by the fact that only two of the teams that took part in the round of 16 last season reached the same stage this time round – and only one of the last eight this season were here for the quarter-final draw a year ago.
"Although seven previous winners of the UEFA Cup played in the round of 16," Mr Infantino added, "only two are here today and there is a chance that, after Club Atlético de Madrid's victory last year, another new name could be engraved on this trophy. Nine different national associations were represented in the round of 16, of which five now provide the eight quarter-finalists who are here today – well aware that their teams are only four matches away from the final in Dublin.
"The first final to be staged in the Republic of Ireland will represent a historic climax to a competition which, in addition to offering us some great games of football, has also been played with positive attitudes and great respect for opponents – teams and fans alike.
"The stakes are high during the final knockout rounds of this exciting new competition, but we are sure that all the clubs present today will join hands to defend and promote values which are so important to European football and society as a whole."
Mr Infantino also conveyed the support of European football to Japan amid the country's current crisis. "Let me offer our deepest sympathy to the people of Japan," he said. "Dear friends, the tragedy of your people is felt in our hearts. We are with you and are sure that you will soon overcome the effects of this catastrophe."
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