Villarreal: Spain’s first Europa Conference League representative

This is the first season that Spain will have a team in UEFA’s newest club competition, the Europa Conference League. In the tournament’s second installment, it will be Villarreal that will carry the Spanish flag.

Initially given the working title ‘Europa League 2’, the Conference League took place for the first time last season. Its aim is to allow more clubs from different countries to participate in Europe. With at least 33 countries assured a group stage place across the three club competitions, more diversity is the key.

The first season displayed the purpose of this new competition, with almost half of UEFA’s national associations having at least one team involved. While Roma did end up victorious in Tirana, there were plenty of surprises and drama in the new tournament. 

Why did Spain not have a team in the Conference League last year? Villarreal, who were due to partake in the new competition last season, had finished seventh in the 2020-21 La Liga campaign. The Yellow Submarine did, however, also win the Europa League that year, which awards a Champions League spot. 

Of course, the latter was where they ended up, ultimately reaching the semi-finals under Unai Emery. UEFA’s rebalancing of their club competitions did not allow for Villarreal’s Europa Conference League place to be passed down to the next best team in the league.

Since neither Real Sociedad nor Real Betis finished third in their Europa League group (which would have dropped them down to the Conference League knockout playoffs), it meant that Spain was the only country not to have a team in last year’s tournament.

Unai Emery’s side enters the competition at the playoff round, the last qualifying round. They will face the Croatian cup winners Hajduk Split. The Yellow Submarine will be among the favourites in this year’s tournament, especially off the back of their impressive runs in Europe over the last two years. 

Should they get past Hajduk, they will be in the group stage draw, which will take place next Friday at 14:30 CET

David Parkes

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