There is much debate about the current format of the UEFA
The Qualifying Round 1 (QR1) matches were held in the last few days in a mini-tournament format. Teams were drawn into groups of four, which played one-legged semifinals and then a final (as well as an academic third-place playoff) in a centralized location to decide who would advance to Qualifying Round 2 (QR2).
Ahead of the draw, teams were split between the Champions Path and League Path, with the former comprised solely of domestic league winners and the latter of teams that qualified through their league position and other routes.
The biggest headlines definitely came from the league path, which featured a number of teams from the best leagues in Europe including the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Dutch runners-up Twente hosted mini-tournament 1, where there biggest competitors were Levante from Spain. Both sides comfortably advanced from their semifinals as Twente put six past Austrian side Sturm Graz and Stjarnan suffered a four-goal defeat after their trip from Iceland against Levante. The showdown between the two was a thrilling affair as Levante took a two-goal lead in the first 20 minutes, but ultimately went down 2-3 against the hosts.
Mini-tournament 2 was hosted by Eintracht Frankfurt, who edged past Slovácko in the semifinal. Juventus, meanwhile, scored six goals against Okzhetpes and looked likelier to advance. However, they could only manage a 1-1 draw so their fate rested on penalties, where they had a potential winner saved and went on to lose 4-5.
The defeat of the five-time Italian champions was perhaps not the biggest upset, though, because the power-packed mini-tournament three in Sweden made yet more headlines. Hosts Linköping were beaten by Arsenal in the semifinal, while Paris FC sent Kryvbas packing. The French outfit met the Gunners in the final, where they threw away a two-goal lead late on in normal time and were pegged back in extra time too. Ultimately, they managed to get the job done on penalties, inching closer to their first UWCL group stage appearance in over a decade.
There was more penalty drama in the final mini-tournament, which featured Brøndby, Celtic, FC Minsk and Vålerenga. Celtic beat the Danish outfit by a lone goal while hosts Vålerenga got the better of FC Minsk, so the final was set. There was late drama in the match too as both teams scored late on in extra time, with Celtic briefly looking on course for victory before a spot-kick from Vålerenga took it to penalties. Every single player got to take a kick and only Celtic’s last kicker failed to score, so it was the Norwegian outfit that went through to QR2.
Although the champions path did not have so many well-known European giants, there were some big stories in its 11 mini-tournaments too.
Among the teams that advanced were St. Pölten of Austria, Romanian outfit U Olimpia Cluj, Spartak Subotica of Serbia, Icelandic side Valur and Ukrainian champions Vorskla, who are all seeking to make their first UWCL group stage appearance.
Cypriot side Apollon Limassol advanced quite comfortably having scored 12 goals in their two games without letting in a single one. One of their players made some history, as Manisha Kalyan became the first Indian to registering an assist in a UEFA competition in the semifinal before also becoming the first Indian to score in a UEFA competition in the following match.
The other sides that advanced included Norwegian champions Brann, who emerged from a tough bracket that also included Anderlecht of Belgium. All the well-fancied teams from the stronger leagues got through without any hiccups, so the likes of Ajax, Benfica, Glasgow City and FC Zürich will all feature in QR2.
A number of other teams will join the brackets for the next qualifying round, which will comprise 12 two-legged knockout ties to decide the teams that join Barcelona, Lyon, Bayern Munich and Chelsea in the group stage. The draw for QR2 will be held on Friday the 15th of September.