Season just over but clubs set their targets

Celebrations in Liverpool for the club’s stunning conquest of the Champions League title last week are probably still not over, but preparations around the continent for next season’s competition are already under way. In Greece, league champion Olympiakos, winner of eight of the country’s last nine league titles, qualifies automatically in the Champion League’s group play. For its place in one of the lucrative competition’s groups, runner-up Panathinaikos will need to get through Round 3 of the qualifying phase. The number of Champions League berths for Greek clubs has been reduced for next season as Greek club-level soccer has slipped in the rankings maintained by UEFA, the tournament’s organizer. The UEFA ranking system regulates the number of national entries. Last season, Greece’s top two clubs had advanced to the group phase, while a third team battled for its place in round three of qualifying competition. This year, however, Greek representation has been cut back to just one club, the champion, while a second club, the league’s runner-up, must make it through the third round of qualifying, home-and-away ties played late in the summer. The number of Greek clubs playing in the UEFA Cup has been increased to four for the upcoming competition. AEK, PAOK, and Xanthi – who ended third, fourth and fifth respectively in the Greek league – and cup finalist Aris are the four Greek entries for the UEFA Cup. To reach the competition’s recently introduced group phase, all four clubs must get through first round home-and-away encounters. Xanthi returns to European club-level competition for the second time in the club’s history. Thessaloniki club Aris, which was relegated to Greece’s second division just days ago, last played in the UEFA Cup two seasons ago.