As the UEFA Europa League moves into its second season, the competition's calibre has been underlined by events at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
"The fact that the best player award in the World Cup has been assigned to the same player who scored the winning goal in the UEFA Europa League final for Club Atlético de Madrid, Diego Forlán, tells us more than anything else about the quality of the UEFA Europa League," said UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino in his address at the third qualifying round draw ceremony in Nyon on Friday. Forlán's winner against Fulham FC gave Atlético the trophy in the inaugural UEFA Europa League final in Hamburg in May.
Praise was also forthcoming for other success stories from South Africa. "My first wish is to congratulate the European teams – Spain, the Netherlands and Germany – who won the gold, silver and bronze medals, fielding many players who are on permanent display in the UEFA Europa League."
Mr Infantino then looked back at the positive outcome of the UEFA Europa League's opening campaign in 2009/10. "The first season was a fantastic success," he said. "Those clubs who took part in the inaugural competition can surely be proud as they helped us make football history.
"The general feedback is that the massive restyling, including a new format and access list, new logo and branding really helped the relaunch of the competition to immediately win a place in the hearts of the fans," Mr Infantino added. "Club Atlético de Madrid will be back to defend their title and I am sure that the 110 clubs who will go into today's draw would quite like to take it from them."
The UEFA general secretary concluded with a call for fair play in this season's UEFA Europa League. "It is impossible to predict who will make it successfully to the final of this second edition," said Mr Infantino. "But it is not too early to ask all of our participants to carry on offering the public good football and, above all, a good image in terms of sportsmanship and respect for the game, the referees and the opponents."
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