The UEFA Cup was introduced for the 1971/72 season and features clubs that have qualified for the tournament from a variety of routes.
It is open to teams finishing in leading positions behind the champions in their domestic top flights, the winners of national cup competitions, the winners of the League Cup in certain countries, the eleven winners of the final matches in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, and three clubs from UEFA's Fair Play League.
Certain national champions that do not qualify for the UEFA Champions League in a particular season also participate in that term's UEFA Cup. In addition, the eight third-placed clubs at the end of the UEFA Champions League group stage drop into the UEFA Cup, in time for the tournament's knockout phase.
The number of sides that can be entered by a national association, and their entry point in the competition, depends on the association's position in UEFA's coefficient ranking and can vary from year to year. The UEFA Cup was traditionally a straight knockout tournament with ties on a home-and-away basis. The final was also held over two legs until the 1997/98 campaign, since when it has been a single match in a neutral stadium.
The format was changed in 2004/05, however, when for the first time a group stage was introduced. Two qualifying rounds produce a first round of 80 teams who play over two legs to find the 40 clubs that make up the group stage. This phase comprises eight groups of five, with each side playing four games, two at home and two away. The winners, runners-up and third-placed teams from each section advance to the last 32 where they are joined by the eight third-placed clubs from the UEFA Champions League. Here, the traditional two-match knockout format resumes, until the final.
For two-legged knockout ties, the side scoring the greater aggregate of goals qualifies for the next round. In the event of both clubs scoring the same number of goals, the team with more away goals prevails. If this proves inconclusive, extra time and then, if necessary, penalties are used to decide the winner. Extra time and penalties also determine the victor if the final is drawn at the end of 90 minutes.
The UEFA Cup is the successor of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was founded on 18 April 1955. The Fairs Cup involved representative sides from cities in Europe that regularly held trade fairs. In 1971 the competition broke its ties with the international trade fairs and came under the auspices of UEFA.
Tottenham Hotspur FC were the first UEFA Cup champions in 1971/72, and English teams have gone on to win the tournament six times. Italian clubs, however, have been most successful with nine victories, including three apiece for Juventus and FC Internazionale Milano. Only Liverpool FC, who last triumphed in 2001, can claim as many UEFA Cup wins.