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Club Brugge’s run to semi-final shows value of Europa Conference League for sides outside of Europe’s elite



Club Brugge came agonisingly close to making the Europa Conference League final against Fiorentina. Having lost the first leg 3-2, the side did not take long to make it 3-3 at home and set up a tense second-leg. Unfortunately for the Belgian side, a reasonably harsh penalty decision meant that Fiorentina were able to take a late lead and ultimately knock Club out. The side should certainly be proud of their achievements, as European football competitions have been stacked against sides outside of the top five leagues for some time now.

However, while it is almost impossible for sides like Club Brugge to really compete in the Champions League due to the huge financial disparity between themselves and other sides, their run to the semi-finals shows the value of Europe’s third tournament. It is the only one of the three tournaments where sides outside of the leagues considered to be the top five leagues have been within touching distance of a major European final. Olympiacos are leading over Premier League Aston Villa and now carry the flag for the sides outside of Europe’s elite leagues.

Of Belgian sides that have competed in Europe over the last few seasons, Club being in this competition was not something many would have foreseen. The side usually compete, and have desires to compete, in the Champions League. Yet if they were being realists, this competition is the best chance they will have at winning a European trophy. They cannot compete with the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG. City, in order to even have a chance of winning the Champions League, have spent more money on transfers than most countries spend on defence. Even then, they’ve only been able to lift the trophy once, highlighting the huge disparity between the sides at the top and the rest. However, there is less of a gap in the Conference League between clubs, meaning a side like Club Brugge go from underdogs to dark horses.

While many fans of the bigger leagues have scoffed at the idea of a third European competition, it has given teams more opportunities and should in the long run improve other leagues across Europe. The competition has seen teams from Lithuania, Bosnia, the Faroe Islands and Estonia able to compete against other European sides, something they could only dream of when having to try and make the Champions or Europa league group stages.

In an age where it feels like the gap between the top leagues in Europe and the rest is growing, the Conference League at least allows us to remember a history where the playing field was more even and the opportunity for European glory was spread less thin.

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