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APOEL Nicosia, Olympiakos and FC Zurich’s performances in the Champions League this year may have done enough to strengthen the case for more group stage places to be kept open for teams from smaller soccer countries.
Earlier this year, UEFA decided to split the qualifying contest into two halves — one for teams who are champions in their countries, the other for non-champions.
The logic was that winners of the smaller leagues such as Switzerland, Austria, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Moldova, to name but a few, would not have their path to the group stage blocked by the likes of non-champion teams such as Arsenal, Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid.
FC Zurich, Olympiakos, Debrecen, Maccabi Haifa and APOEL Nicosia benefited as they took the five places kept open for champions of lesser-ranked countries.