SpainQualification spots: 3 (Two from the league and one from the Cup)
If you’ve spent any time hangin’ with the Football hipsters on Twitter then you’ll be right across the exploits of Athletic Club Bilbao and their eccentric coach, Marcelo Bielsa. The Basque club are whipping up a storm in this season’s Europa League after knocking out Manchester United and spanking Bundesliga club, Schalke 04, in the Quarter Finals.
The remaining two places could be filled from the reluctant Valencia (another current quarter finalist) and Malaga who are vying for a Champions League place. Another contender is Levante in sixth place but given their modest European history you imagine that Valencia’s other club would consider Europa League football a significant achievement. From seventh downwards there are a clutch of clubs who would see a top eight place as realistic. These include Europa League holders, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Sevilla and Getafe.
FranceQualification spots: 3 (One from the league, one from the French Cup and one from the French League Cup)
However, in fifth pace and level on points with Lyon are Toulouse so nothing is certain. Beneath them is a four point gap to sixth placed Saint Etienne. The French Cup Final is down to its final four with two lower division clubs making up the quartet. Gazelec Ajaccio play in the third tier of French football and face Lyon. Meanwhile, Gazelec’s fellow third division side US Quevilly will play Stade Rennais. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of these teams will play in Europe next season. Eat your heart out Birmingham City.
The NetherlandsQualification spots: 4 (Three from the league and one from the Cup)
The 2013 Europa League Final will be hosted in Amsterdam so the participants will be keen to make it a Dutch affair in the Amsterdam ArenA. The Netherlands operate a playoff system for the final remaining Europa League spot. This is a four team competition between fifth, sixth and seventh and eighth places.
With regards to a playoff, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there are clubs, closer to the bottom of the table than the top who are in with a shout of landing a Europa League spot. At the time of writing there are four points between NEC in eighth place and Heracles in thirteenth. Of course, there is a lot of teams to negotiate on the way but it does seem mildly bonkers to think that a team that is sixth from bottom of the league may end up playing in Europe next season but hey, it’s their league and if makes them happy...
Heracles’ best chance of going through is by beating PSV in the KNVB Beker Final (That’s the Dutch Cup to you and me) which takes place on 8th April.
BelgiumQualification spots: 2 (Two from the league and one from the Cup)
I'm trying to work out if the Belgian qualification route to the Europa League is incredibly complicated or, terribly straightforward. Belgium decides is Championship, European and relegation places by an elaborate playoff system (well, elaborate to me anyway).
Cup winners, Sporting Lokeren have already qualifiers and the only certainty in what appears, from the outside at least, to be a bonkers format. All this effort for two places.
As a famous fictional Frenchman once said, “These Belgians are crazy.”
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