How do the Jupiler Pro League teams qualify for Europe?
As the UEFA club competitions come back this week, it is high time for a reminder as to how the Belgian teams qualify for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.
Here is a look at which European spots are available this season as well as next campaign for the Jupiler Pro League teams.
Qualification for the 2023/24 UEFA club competitions
This season, the last under the 18-team format continues to see Belgium occupy five European places. However, due to finishing 13th at the end of last season’s five-year coefficient ranking, the starting rounds for several of the spots have changed.
Winning the four-team championship playoff at season’s end results in qualification to the Champions League playoff round. That is the final round of qualifying before the group stages. Initially, the JPL winner would have qualified for the UCL third qualifying round. However, due the continued ban of Russian clubs, changes to the access list meant that the champion starts a round later.
The runners up will partake in the Champions League second qualifying round in the non-champions path. Unlike in recent years, that will require this team to win at least one round of qualifying to make a group stage.
The cup winners will once again enter the Europa League at the playoff stage. Like the JPL champions berth, the cup winner spot was initially supposed to start in the third round of qualifying in the Europa League. That has changed for the same reason previously mentioned.
The regular season winner is assured a spot in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round. This is one round earlier than in the previous two years, again due to Belgium’s fall in the coefficient ranking. It must be noted that this spot could be given to the third or fourth place team in the title playoffs, depending on where the regular season winner finishes in the group, or if they win the cup. If this team earns a higher ranked spot after the playoffs, the next best team claims this spot instead.
Finally, another spot in the Conference League second qualifying round is available for the winners of a European play-in game. This match takes place between the lowest ranked team in the title playoffs (excluding the regular season winner, if applicable) and the winner of the European playoffs. The latter is the playoff involving the teams finishing fifth through eighth in the Jupiler Pro League regular season.
To that point, if the cup winner qualifies for the championship playoff or wins the European playoff, then the single-game play-in is not played. The European playoff winner would therefore qualify for the Conference League spot (if the cup winner played in the title playoffs) or the Europa League spot (if they won the cup).
In the latter scenario, both Europa Conference League spots would be given to the bottom two teams in the title playoffs.
Lastly, regarding the Croky Cup, if that team finishes in the top two at season’s end, then the third place team will claim the Europa League playoff spot.
It should be noted that Club Brugge (UCL), Union St. Gilloise (UEL), Gent and Anderlecht (both UECL) are all left in Europe. They can all qualify for Europe next season by winning a UEFA club competition. Lifting the UCL or UEL trophy rewards the team a spot in the latter competition’s group stage in September. Winning the Europa Conference League allows for a spot in the Europa League group stage.
If, for example, Gent wins the Conference League and qualifies for Europe via the JPL, De Buffalo’s would take the better spot. So, unless they finish in the top two, they would automatically enter the Europa League group stage. If they finish in the top two, they would play in whichever round of Champions League qualifying applicable depending on which spot they finish.
In such an example, Belgium would not earn an extra European spot as a result. That is to say, the other European place Gent earned would not be passed down to another Belgian team.
If, however, Union was to win both the Europa League and Croky Cup, plus qualify for Europe via the JPL, then things would be slightly different. If they finished in the top two in Belgium, their cup winner spot, along with the Conference League spots, would be passed down to the next best team. If they finished third or lower, the Conference League spot would be passed down. In this scenario, Belgium would have six European places.
If a Belgian team wins a UEFA club competition and does not qualify for Europe domestically, then Belgium would have an extra spot in continental football next season. In that case, Belgium could have as many as eight teams in Europe next year. That, however, is very unlikely to happen.
Qualification for the 2024/25 European club competitions
Things change for the Belgian teams in the 2023/24 JPL regarding European qualification.
Reverting back to a 16-team league, the top six will partake in the title playoffs. The next six teams will pay in the European playoff, while the bottom four play in the relegation playoffs.
This time around, winning the league will result in an automatic Champions League group stage spot for 2024/25. This is thanks to Belgium’s incredible campaign in Europe, which will see them finish in the top 10 of UEFA’s five-year coefficient ranking at season’s end.
The runners up will play in (at least) the Champions League third qualifying round. Again, due to Belgium’s impressive season, they will start a round later than in 2023/24.
The cup winners will again enter the Europa League playoff round (at least). The regular season winner will also qualify for the Europa League, but the second qualifying round. This is a change in UEFA’s access list which will benefit countries ranked seventh to 12th as they will have two Europa League spots.
If the regular season winner wins the cup and/or finishes in the top three after the playoffs, then the next best team will claim the Europa League qualifying round spot.
Finally, the Europa Conference League second qualifying round spot will continue to go to the winner of the European play-in match. There are no changes to this. Here, the only way the European play-in
match does not occur is if the winner of the European playoff also wins the Croky Cup. In that case, the Conference League spot would go to the best team in the championship playoff not to qualify for Europe.
The examples above regarding a Belgian team winning a European club competition and qualifying for Europe domestically still apply here as well.
Finally, there is a new scenario, added as of next season, that could further impact qualification for the European club competitions.
Part of the Champions League reforms will see two spots in the group phase be reserved based solely on a seasonal coefficient ranking. That means the two countries who had the best one-year coefficient ranking will send an extra team to the Champions League group phase. This starts as of next year. Thus, the two countries in the 2023/24 seasonal coefficient ranking will win an extra Champions League spot in 2024/25. This spot is also in addition to the other European spots already available for that country.
If Belgium finishes in the top two of the seasonal ranking in 2023/24, there would be changes as a result. It would simply mean that all European spots, bar the JPL champion spot, would be moved down one place.
That means the runners up would play in the Champions League group phase, the third place team taking the UCL qualifying spot. The cup winners would still earn the Europa League playoff spot, with the other European spots still as outlined above.
This scenario does not take into consideration, for instance, a Belgian team winning a European competition plus qualifying for Europe domestically. That would result in more changes akin to what was outlined above.