England gains extra qualifying spot
England has been granted an additional place in next season's UEFA Europa League via the UEFA Respect Fair Play ranking, UEFA confirmed this morning.
As expected, an extra English team will appear in the competition's first qualifying round next season, with Fulham seeming the likely beneficiaries with one game of the Premier League season remaining.
Fulham currently head the Premier League's domestic fair play table and are the only team not to have had a player sent off in the competition this season.
Relegation-threatened Blackpool appear their only realistic challengers, their 46 yellow cards and two reds giving them 52 disciplinary points for the season - just two more than the total amassed by the Cottagers' half-century of bookings.
The Tangerines belatedly applied for a UEFA licence to play in European football, though manager Ian Holloway was not enthusiastic about the prospect when made aware of it.
"If this Europe thing does happen then all I'll be thinking about is how short our summer is going to be because the qualifying stages for the Europa League begin at the start of July," he said last month.
"The season doesn't end until 22 May so we will get about a month off, tops. When you consider we didn't really have much of a break last year because of the play-offs that really isn't good."
The UEFA rankings are based on games played by a country's clubs and national teams in UEFA competitions between 1 May last year and 30 April this year. A national association must have played 34 games to qualify.
UEFA's website states: "The Fair Play assessments are made by the official UEFA delegates on criteria such as positive play, respect of the opponent, respect of the referee, behaviour of the crowd and of the team officials, as well as cautions and dismissals."
Relegation is no barrier to a team's eligibility, meaning Blackpool would still be allowed to take up their place should they drop into the Championship.
Norway's Aalesund, who played in the third qualifying round of this season's Europa League, will return to the competition two rounds earlier for 2011-12, while the Swedish place goes to Hacken.
The latter qualified by the same means for the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, when they reached the first round proper before losing to Spartak Moscow.