Malta FA one of the driving forces behind tournament expansion
Maltese youth teams will have an added incentive to win this year’s league title after UEFA announced that all countries affiliated with the European governing body of football will participate in the UEFA Youth League from season 2024-25.
For the past years, participation in the Domestic Champions Path of this competition was only restricted to the top 32 associations on the UEFA ranking list.
However, the European governing body announced changes to the format of the youth competition, opening the doors for all domestic youth league champions to take part in the UEFA Youth League.
Last season, Ħamrun Spartans were crowned Malta’s Youth League champions, but were not eligible to compete in the UEFA competition due to the country’s low ranking in the European governing body list, but all this will change from season 2024-25.
Bjorn Vassallo, the Malta FA president, welcomed UEFA’s announcement and revealed that the Maltese governing body had been one of the major driving forces behind this significant change for all youth football clubs on the continent.
“I can confirm that the intention is that Malta will be one of 55 countries who will have the winner of its domestic youth league taking part in the UEFA Youth League,” Vassallo said.
“The Malta FA has been proposing a change in regulations, that would see small European countries represented in this competition, for the past three years now. In the past months we have written officially to UEFA to put forward our position and that of other small European countries on this matter and ask the European body to expand this competition.
“UEFA had notified us that they will carry out a study to see if this could be done and today we had the official confirmation that this expansion will happen in season 2024-25.
“Im grateful that UEFA accepted the expansion of this competition to give equal opportunities to all youths all over the European confederation.”
In a statement, UEFA said that the competition will adapt to the format change of the senior UEFA club competitions and include the 36 youth teams of the clubs which qualify for the league phase of the 2024/25 UEFA Champions League (Champions League path).
“The Domestic Champions path will be restructured to include the domestic youth champions of all UEFA member associations (currently participation is limited to the top 32 associations of the ranking list),” UEFA said.
“If a club qualifies for both the UEFA Champions League path and the Domestic Champions path, it automatically participates in the UEFA Champions League path and the vacancy in the domestic champions path is filled by the runner-up of the same association.”
The UEFA Youth League titleholder automatically qualifies for the Domestic Champions’ path unless the club has qualified for the UEFA Champions League, UEFA said.
UEFA emphasised that the league stage will mirror the UEFA Champions League leagues stage but limited to the first six matchdays, with the same matches played in both competitions, namely three at home and three away.
“The Domestic Champions path will consist of three rounds played under the cup (knock-out) system with two-legged ties (home and away matches). The clubs of the top-ranked associations will enter in the second round,” UEFA said.
“At the end of these initial phases a single knock-out phase will be played with one-leg ties starting with the Round of 32.”
The clubs ranked 1 to 6 (Champions League Path) will qualify for the Round of 32 and play against the clubs ranked 17 to 22. The clubs ranked 7 to 16 will face in the Round of 32 the 10 clubs that qualify via the Domestic Champions path.
The clubs ranked 23 and lower in the Champions League path are eliminated from the competition, as well as those losing the knock-out rounds of the Domestic Champions path. The tournament will conclude with a final four (Semi-finals and Final) played at a neutral venue.
For the Round of 16, the quarter-finals and semi-finals the pairings will be determined by means of a draw.
Last season, Dutch side AZ Alkmaar won the UEFA Youth League.
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