TIRANA, Albania ( Associated Press) – The Conference League tournament was designed to give smaller teams the opportunity to play continental football in the European season.
This worked for most of the inaugural competition, but the larger teams went through the semi-finals.
The first final will take place in the Albanian capital Tirana between Dutch club Feyenoord and Italian team Roma. The match will be played at the 20,000-capacity National Stadium, a relatively small venue for such a large club.
“We did not expect such significant interest in the UEFA Conference League in 2020 when we decided on the final hosts. This was a new competition, so it was appropriate to start with stadiums with smaller capacity,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said on Wednesday. Ko said in an email interview with The Associated Press. “But the interest expressed in this final is fantastic, and I’m delighted to see the reaction of fans to this new tournament.”
Thousands of fans have flocked to Albania for the match. Authorities in the country declared Wednesday a public holiday and closed city streets to create a festive atmosphere.
Both Feyenoord and Roma have large fan bases and are expected to be in Tirana for the match, despite each club being allotted only 4,000 tickets.
However, there are already some fan issues. Deputy Chief of Police Albert Darvasi said 48 Italian fans and 12 Dutch supporters had been detained and 80 were deported back to Italy following violence in the city on Tuesday night.
Next season’s final is to be played at Prague’s Eden Arena, a stadium with even less capacity. Clubs that have already qualified to enter next season’s edition include West Ham, Cologne and Fiorentina.
“If this trend continues, we may need to think about moving to bigger stadiums in the future,” Ceferin said. “And I think the success of the first edition will make many other countries consider bidding for later editions.”
Although the conference league semifinals featured teams from some of Europe’s top football nations, the idea of giving smaller clubs more chances was evident through the quarterfinals. Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki, Norwegian team Bodø/Glimt and Czech team Slavia Prague all reached that later stage.
“The idea behind the UEFA Conference League is to have more matches for more clubs, represent more associations in the group stages. And formula one proved to be successful,” said Ceferin. “We had several teams making their European debuts this season, with 12 national confederations represented in the Round of 16.”
The Conference League will still be the third most important tournament on the UEFA calendar after the Champions League and Europa League, but its early success is encouraging for Ceferin.
“Many so-called football experts try to convince us that such a competition will never be as important and lucrative as the other two competitions. And now, in the final, you have two teams that, in terms of quality, are in the UEFA Champions League. Can play easily,” Ceferin said. “The opening season played out beyond expectations.”
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