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From UEFA Cup to UEFA Europa League

Track the evolution of the competition that started out as the UEFA Cup.

Sevilla celebrate winning the trophy for a sixth time in 2020
Sevilla celebrate winning the trophy for a sixth time in 2020 Getty Images

Launched in 1971, the UEFA Cup was introduced as a third UEFA club competition after the European Champion Clubs’ Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

The UEFA Cup was organised to replace the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, with the new competition coming under the European governing body’s control in order to standardise rules, refereeing and disciplinary matters.

UEFA CUP

Alan Mullery scores against Wolves in the second leg of the first UEFA Cup final
Alan Mullery scores against Wolves in the second leg of the first UEFA Cup finalPopperfoto via Getty Images

1971/72
The new competition’s 64-team field is established on sporting merit, comprising the highest-ranking clubs that have not qualified for the other competitions. The UEFA Cup is a straight, two-legged knockout competition, in which teams have to come through five rounds to reach a two-legged final. The first winners are England’s Tottenham Hotspur, who defeat fellow countrymen Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate in May 1972.

1997/98
The competition knockout format remains in place, but the two-legged final is replaced by a single fixture at a neutral venue. The first winners under the new format are Inter, who beat fellow Italians Lazio 3-0 in Paris.

2000 final highlights: Turkish delight for Galatasaray
2000 final highlights: Turkish delight for Galatasaray

1999/2000
The competition is expanded to incorporate an extra qualifying round, with a total of 142 teams entering from 49 member UEFA associations. The entrants include domestic cup winners, following the discontinuation of the European Cup Winners’ Cup after the 1998/99 competition, as well as 24 teams who drop out of the UEFA Champions League – 16 from the qualifying phase and eight from the first group stage.

Two of the Champions League group stage teams, Galatasaray and Arsenal, go on to reach the UEFA Cup final in Copenhagen, with the Turkish side emerging victorious by winning a penalty shoot-out 4-1 after a goalless draw over 120 minutes.

2004/05
A new format includes a second qualifying round, but the major change is the introduction of a group stage following the first round. Eight five-team groups are formed, with each team in a group playing two home and two away games against their four group opponents. The top three teams in each group advance to the two-legged round of 32, with eight teams also joining from the Champions League group stage. The first winners are CSKA Moscow, Russia’s first UEFA club competition champions, who pull off a 3-1 win over Portugal’s Sporting CP, despite the final taking place at Sporting’s Estádio José Alvalade, which had been appointed as a neutral host venue for the game prior to the competition.

26 September 2008
Following its meeting in Bordeaux, the UEFA Executive Committee announces that the UEFA Cup is to be renamed the UEFA Europa League from the beginning of the 2009/10 season, with a new format moving the competition closer to that of the Champions League.

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

Atlético's 2010 Europa League glory
Atlético's 2010 Europa League glory

2009/10
A total of 192 teams from 53 UEFA associations participate in the inaugural Europa League, with a maximum of four sides from any one nation. Three qualifying rounds and a play-off round precede a 48-team group stage consisting of 12 pools of four teams each, with teams playing their three group opponents home and away. The 12 group winners and runners-up advance to the round of 32 alongside eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group stage.

Four two-legged knockout rounds culminate in a single-match final, in which Spain’s Atlético de Madrid beat English side Fulham 2-1 after extra time in Hamburg.

2014/15
The Europa League title winners now automatically qualify for a place in the following season’s Champions League – 2015 winners Sevilla head into the Champions League for 2015/16.

2019/20
As a result of the temporary suspension of European football during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Europa League season is completed in a special one-off ‘final eight’ tournament in Germany. Teams meet in single knockout matches, with Sevilla edging Inter 3-2 in the final in Cologne to lift the trophy for the sixth time since 2006.