Wednesday, December 19, 2007

UEFA Cup Loaded With Quality Teams

I've always looked at the UEFA Cup as the N.I.T. to the Champions League's NCAA Tournament; it's nice if my team's in it and contending for the cup, otherwise, who cares.

This year's UEFA Cup, however, may be a different story. It's loaded. Bayern Munich is the big dog, but don't dispel PSV, Marseille, Atletico Madrid, Villareal, Fiorentina, Benfica, Tottenham ,Sporting, Hamburg and a few others that could be considered a contender.

The UEFA Cup was a bigger deal back in the day when the Champions League was the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup was still contended. The UEFA Cup was essentially a deeper tournament and its two-leg final always produced a worthy champion.

When the ECC became the Champions League, and the Cup Winners' Cup sadly went away, the UEFA Cup was relegated to a distant afterthought. But if you look at the past winners, include if you wish the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and you'll see Juventus in six finals, winning three of them. Sevilla has won the last two; Inter and Liverpool have three titles, Parma and Real Madrid have two, among others. Ask them if they'd give those back.

The final two days of the current round of the UEFA Cup are today and tomorrow. The Champions League castoffs join the fray in the next round and that's when the fun starts. The matchups could be juicy and there will be a lot of national pride tossed about.

SoccerOverload has the final day group stage schedules. has previews on each match.

Give UEFA credit for at least trying to inject some new life into the tournament. Next year, there's a new format being introduced for at least three years. Most notably, the group stage will include 12 groups of four teams. Qualification changes too to include domestic cup winners, Fair Play winners and the Intertoto Cup has seen its final days and those teams will be included as well.

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