Serie A clubs cannot afford to sneer at Europa League

If Italian clubs continue to fall under par in Europe over the next couple of years, Serie A could be overtaken further in Uefa coefficient rankings.

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The Europa League concentrates Italy's attention tomorrow. Or, rather, diehard Lazio and Udinese fans will set the evening aside to watch Rome's light blues take on Sporting, of Lisbon, and Francesco Guidolin's team at Glasgow Celtic.

Results against these green-and-white hooped outfits ought not present a great obstacle course for seasoned Italians, but don't count on it. Serie A's contingent in the competition is already down to two from a possible four, since Roma were knocked out by Slovan Bratislava in a pre-qualifier and Palermo perished on away goals to Switzerland's FC Thun before that.

Udinese dropped into the tournament having lost a Champions League play-off against Arsenal.

Two out of four is a poor showing from one of the game's glamour nations. But all too typical. Italy has not had a finalist in the Uefa Cup/Europa League this side of the new millennium.

There's an indifference towards this Cup because of its little-brother status beside the dominant Champions League. Yet Italy cannot afford to sneer. Lazio and Udinese should ask today's opponents about the potential joys of this Cup. Celtic's finest achievement of the last decade? Reaching the 2003 Uefa Cup final.

Two years later, Sporting finished runners-up, a 21st-century peak for that club. Portugal has had four finalists in the Uefa Cup/Europa League in the last six years, which is partly why their league has moved stealthily up the Uefa coefficient rankings.

Serie A recently slipped down, to fourth, behind the German Bundesliga. That drop has already cost Italy's top-flight a Champions League place:

Next year only Serie A's top three go into the principal Uefa competition. If Italian clubs fall under par in Europe over the next couple of years, they could be overtaken further, by France's Ligue 1, and even by the sixth-placed Portuguese Liga.