Exciting Europa League deserves some respect
If the rip-roaring action from Matchday One in the Europa League is anything to go by, proposals to scrap the continent’s second-tier competition in order to expand the money-spinning Champions League to 64 teams would be an ill-judged decision.
Allowing as many as six teams from Europe’s top leagues to enter the Champions League would devalue the competition’s name as much as it would dilute its quality, with too many nondescripts trying to punch above their weight.
Likewise, it would deny many unheralded teams the kind of attention that came the way of Swiss outfit Young Boys Berne after their enthralling 5-3 home defeat by Liverpool in which the lead changed hands time and again throughout the absorbing Europa League contest.
How about Olympique Marseille’s late comeback in a 2-2 draw at Fenerbahce, Maribor’s shock 3-0 win over Panathinaikos or Chile striker Eduardo Vargas celebrating his debut in Europe with a hat-trick in Napoli’s 4-0 rout of AIK Stockholm?
The entertainment would quite simply be engulfed and devoured by the big picture of Real Madrid locking horns with Manchester City, a fixture which made the appeal and glamour of other Champions League games in the opening round pale in comparison.
The unloved Europa League gave the likes of former winners Shakhtar Donetsk, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, Sevilla and holders Atletico Madrid everything to play for in front of success-hungry fans craving for European silverware that would remain elusive among the elite.
Last but not least, doesn’t Atletico’s impressive 4-1 mauling of Chelsea in the curtain-raising European Super Cup suggest that winning the second-string competition merits an automatic Champions League berth the following season?
Much more so than finishing sixth in the Premier League.