Soccer / European Club Competitions / All Eyes on the Draw - if You Can Understand the System

The draw for the first two qualifying rounds of next season's European club competitions will be held on Monday. Maccabi Haifa will vie for a precious place in the Champions League group stage. In the new UEFA Europa League that will replace the UEFA Cup, Bnei Yehuda is to enter the first qualifying round draw, while Maccabi Netanya will enter at the second qualifying stage and Hapoel Tel Aviv at the third of the four stages.

European soccer's governing body has adopted a new qualifying process for both competitions. UEFA president Michel Platini's desire to see a greater variety of countries represented in the Champions League group stage has produced a new format that combines carrot and stick for clubs from both leading and minor national leagues.

Until last season, 16 teams qualified automatically, including at least two representatives of the six highest-ranked national leagues. From next season, that number will increase to 22, including the three top teams from the three leading leagues (England, Spain and Italy). On the other hand, teams from the leading leagues that have to qualify will have a harder time.

There will be two routes to qualifying for the remaining 10 places, for five teams apiece. The "champions' path" is designated for national champions from the continent's weaker leagues, from 14th-ranked Greece to 53rd-ranked San Marino. The champions of Greece, the Czech Republic, Israel and Bulgaria can only draw teams from weaker nations in the first qualifying round. Meanwhile, non-champions from the stronger leagues will have to play four qualifying rounds in order to reach the group stage, in the "best-placed path." Each round will involve a home and an away game.

Premier League champion Maccabi Haifa will enter the Champions League qualifying tournament at the second-round stage (for countries ranked 17 to 49, plus two qualifiers from the first round). As a ranked team, Haifa could draw opponents such as Dudelange from Luxembourg or FC Rhyl, which plays in the Welsh Premier League.

In the third round it will enter the hat with clubs from preferable soccer nations such as Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Greece. A defeat at this stage will see Haifa moved to the fourth qualifying round of the Europa League. If Haifa reaches the fourth and final round of the Champions League qualifiers, and higher-ranked teams also reach that stage, Haifa will not be seeded and could meet the likes of Olympiacos of Greece, FC Kobenhavn of Denmark, Bulgaria's Levski Sofia, Slava Prague or Partizan Belgrade - all clubs with a proud history and a bigger budget.

Consolation prize

The new Europa League competition - which will feature 48 teams in the group stage, playing in 12 leagues of four teams apiece - will also have four qualifying rounds. In another innovation, teams' introduction to the qualifying competition will be staggered: Bnei Yehuda in the first round, Maccabi Netanya in the second round and Hapoel Tel Aviv in the third round.

Bnei Yehuda will be one of 46 clubs from countries ranked 22 to 51 (plus three clubs who qualified through accumulating "fair play" points) in the first round. For the second qualifying round draw, the 23 winners will be joined by 57 other clubs from countries ranked seven-53 (including Maccabi Netanya).

Thirty more clubs from countries ranked one to 29 (including Hapoel Tel Aviv) will compete in the third qualifying round. The third-round winners will join 26 clubs from countries ranked 1-17, 10 third qualifying round losers from the Champions League and five clubs from the 'best-placed path" who also lost out in the third round.