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Cisse: A return to football possible

Auxerre
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By ESPN Staff

UEFA opens up Champions League to smaller teams

LUCERNE, Switzerland -- The European Champions League is being opened to more clubs from smaller countries and its final each May will be moved to Saturday.

Six of 32 places in the first round will be reserved for champions from less competitive leagues, European soccer's governing body decided Friday in announcing changes effective for the 2009-10 season.

In addition, three teams each from powers England, Italy and Spain will qualify automatically for the first round. Currently, two each from each nation receive automatic berths and two more go into the third round of qualifying. Under the new format, the fourth place teams from those countries will have to qualify against second-place teams from relatively strong nations such as the Netherlands or Portugal.

The final has traditionally been held on a Wednesday night. Michael Platini, the new president of the Union of European Football Associations, wanted it moved to a weekend to encourage more family viewing and attendance.

Changes also were made to the UEFA Cup, Europe's second-tier club competition, which will have 48 teams in the group phase, up from 40. The Intertoto Cup, a summer tournament, was abolished.