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By ESPN Staff

Champions League changes expected

UEFA are expected to announce tomorrow that three Premier League clubs will qualify automatically for the Champions League group phase from 2009.

The fourth-placed Premier League team however are likely to face a much tougher task in making the group stage as they will have to play a qualifying round against another side from the leading leagues in Europe.

Previously, the fourth-placed teams from England, Spain and Italy were almost assured of a place among 32 Champions League clubs by being seeded against a side from a weaker European country in the final qualifying round.

Scotland's champions will also qualify automatically under the changes being put forward by UEFA president Michel Platini, with the Scottish runners-up likely to face two qualifying rounds.

The decision will be taken by UEFA's executive committee meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, tomorrow and will also see six group-stage spots reserved for the champions of the 40 lowest-ranked countries among UEFA's 53 members.

Three separate proposals are being put forward to UEFA's executive committee but their main difference is in the qualifying routes for the champions for the smaller countries.

Platini has been determined to have more club champions playing in the tournament, and especially to see more inclusion from the smaller countries.

He also put forward a proposal for domestic cup winners to qualify but has been happy to shelve that idea in return for support from the clubs and leagues for these changes.