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Champions League set to include eight match group stage

UEFA officials, clubs and leagues have agreed to revisions for the expanded Champions League format, including increasing the number of group stage matches to eight.

The reformatted group stage would still grow from 32 to 36 teams starting in 2024 but the number of rounds will only jump from six to eight per team rather than 10.

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The UEFA club competitions committee has agreed to the format tweaks. The plan will now be voted on at the executive committee meeting.

Two additional places in the expanded format would be awarded to the two countries with the highest UEFA ranking based on their teams’ results in European competitions the previous season. If the system was already in place, it would mean the fifth-place team in England would qualify for the Champions League along with a second automatic place for the Netherlands. The team finishing third in the Dutch league would get a chance to enter the qualifying rounds.

“UEFA has clearly shown today that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values ​​of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the values ​​and solidarity-based European sports model,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said.

“Today’s decisions conclude an extensive consultation process during which we listened to the ideas of fans, players, coaches, national associations, clubs and leagues to name but a few, with the aim to find the best solution for the development and success of European football , both domestically and on the international club stage.

“We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football across our continent while increasing the appeal and popularity of our club competitions”

The original plan that sparked backlash, particularly among middle-class clubs, would have awarded the two places to teams with the strongest five-season record in Europe who failed to qualify through their domestic leagues.

The distribution of the other two expansion places will see an additional team qualify from the fifth-ranked country in Europe — regularly France — and a fifth slot for domestic champions who don’t qualify automatically.

The first main stage to the new-look Champions League will see teams placed in a single standings rather than having eight groups. Only eight teams will qualify automatically for the round of 16. But finishing up to 24th out of the 36 teams will secure entry into the 16-team playoff round.

There would be 10 weeks set aside for European games from 2024 but two weeks are set to be reserved for the Europa League and Europa Conference League.

The 32-team Champions League produces 96 games in the group stage. Dropping from 10 to eight games per team will make an extra 64 games rather than 100 before the round of 16. That would have an impact on UEFA’s predictions of revenue rising about 40% from the current €3.5 billion ($3.8 billion) annually from its club competitions.

The Champions League was created in 1992 from the European Cup, which started in 1955 and was a knockout tournament for most of its existence.

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