UEFA approves third club competition from 2021

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

There will be a third European club competition from 2021, UEFA has announced.

President Aleksander Ceferin said a “widespread demand” for participation at European level had led to the formation of the new tournament, which will sit under the Champions and Europa Leagues.

With a working title of ‘UEL2’, the 32-team competition will start at the beginning of the new UEFA cycle, which runs from 2021-2024.

Eight groups of four will be whittled down to a round of 16, following a play-off between the second-placed teams and those who finish third in the Europa League.

Quarter-finals and semi-finals will then follow, before a 141st game, the final.

“The new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before,” Ceferin said.

“There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. This competition was borne out of ongoing dialogue with clubs through the European Club Association (ECA).

“There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition.

“This has been achieved with a strategic approach, and in accordance with UEFA’s objective of having both more quality and more inclusivity in our club competitions.”

The winner of the new tournament will then earn a place in the Europa League.

UEFA added that the fixtures will be played on a Thursday, the same day as the Europa League.

The governing body will leave it to individual associations to decide the criteria for earning a place, be it through league placing or cup.

ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli welcomed the news, saying: “I am delighted that the UEFA Executive Committee has agreed to the changes ECA member clubs have been calling for.

“We believe that this outcome ensures that the UEFA club competitions continue to develop in a manner which is fair and balanced, meeting the demands and requirements necessary to ensure that football remains the number one sport globally.

“I would like to add that this whole process is testimony to the strong collaborative efforts of both ECA and UEFA at all levels.”

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Luka Modric tipped to beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for Ballon d'Or

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Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric is tipped to end Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi‘s decade of Ballon d’Or dominance when the winner is announced on Monday night.

Juventus striker Ronaldo and Barcelona forward Messi have both won the top prize, which has been awarded by France football to the best male player every year since 1956, five times from 2008.

Brazilian playmaker Kaka was the last player other than Ronaldo and Messi to be victorious, in 2007 when starring for AC Milan.

However, Ronaldo and Messi could miss out this time around with speculation linking Croatian Modric with the Ballon d’Or, which will be presented at a ceremony hosted by David Ginola in Paris.

Former Tottenham player Modric has enjoyed an impressive year for both club and country.

The 33-year-old played an integral role in Real winning a fourth Champions League title in five years and then skippered Croatia to their first World Cup final in Russia.

Croatia were beaten 4-2 by France in Moscow earlier this summer, but Modric reinforced his reputation as one of the best midfielders in the world during the tournament by winning the Golden Ball.

Modric was also named the FIFA Best Men’s Player at an awards ceremony in London in September, beating off competition from Ronaldo and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.

As well as Ronaldo, Messi and Salah, France World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane plus Brazil skipper Neymar are among the 30-man Ballon d’Or shortlist that was released in October.

England striker Harry Kane and Wales forward Gareth Bale were the only British players included.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are two of the 10 nominees for the first Kopa Trophy, which is handed to the best player under the age of 21.

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Arsenal cruise ahead and AC Milan survive major scare in our Europa League review

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Arsenal cruised to victory in Kiev to progress as Europa League Group E winners by beating Vorskla Poltava 3-0.

The Group E fixture was moved 185 miles east of Poltava on Tuesday to the capital’s Olympic Stadium, with parts of Ukraine under martial law as political tensions continue to rise.

Arsenal needed just 10 minutes to open the scoring as Emile Smith-Rowe converted from inside the area, and it was 2-0 when Aaron Ramsey coolly slotted in from the spot after being brought down inside the area by Igor Perduta, before Gunners academy graduate Joe Willock added a third on the stroke of half-time.

Sporting Lisbon progressed as runners-up behind Arsenal with a 6-1 thumping of Qarabag in Azerbaijan as Bruno Fernandes and Abdoulaye Diaby both scored twice.

Scott Sinclair’s goal three minutes before half-time gave Celtic a crucial 1-0 victory over Rosenborg in Trondheim.

And with RB Leipzig losing by the same scoreline to Group B winners Red Bull Salzburg, it means that Celtic need a point from their final game at home to Salzburg to confirm their qualification.

Italian giants AC Milan survived a major fright against Luxembourg minnows Dudelange at the San Siro, trailing 2-1 midway through the second period against a team that had lost all four of their group games.

But a major upset was averted with four goals in a 15-minute spell as Fabio Borini’s strike sealed a nervy win that leaves AC Milan second in Pool F, one point behind Real Betis, who were 1-0 conquerors of Olympiakos and reached the round of 32 thanks to Sergio Canales’ strike.

Zenit St Petersburg’s 1-0 home win against Pool C rivals FC Copenhagen – Robert Mak scored the only goal after 59 minutes – saw them win their group, but Slavia Prague’s hopes of joining them were dented by a 2-0 defeat in Bordeaux.

There were no goals in either Pool D game, with Fenerbahce qualifying along with group winners Dinamo Zageb following their draw in Istanbul, while Anderlecht and Spartak Trnava also played out a scoreless encounter.

Bayer Levekusen stayed top of Pool A, despite being held 1-1 at home by Ludogrets, as Zurich, who had also qualified with Leverkusen, suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat against already-eliminated visitors AEK Lanarca.

Goals in the last 10 minutes by Mert Mulder and Philipp Schobesberger nudged Rapid Vienna to the top of Group G as they beat Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Kiev ensured top spot in Pool K as Benjamin Verbic’s first half goal proved enough to take the points against hosts Astana.

Krasnodar, meanwhile, qualified in Group J after beating Akhisar 2-1, and BATE Borisov saw off Vidi 2-0 in Group L.

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