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German clubs could lift Bundesliga above Italy in UEFA rankings

Six German teams are bidding for glory as the Champions and Europa Leagues get underway in earnest. But they also have a shot of moving the Bundesliga up a crucial notch in the UEFA rankings.

Bayern Munich midfielder Mark van Bommel, left, and Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso

This season's internationals are even more a German-Italian dogfight

Bayern, Schalke, Bremen, Stuttgart, Dortmund and Leverkusen all have a chance to win some international silverware this season. But even if they don't achieve that, they could help the Bundesliga acquire an extra spot in the Champions League - and the extra millions of euros in revenue that go with it.

The top three leagues in Europe all get three guaranteed berths and one qualification spot in club football's premier competition. Italy's Serie A is currently the third-ranked league, but it's a mere nose ahead of the Bundesliga, with 64.3 and 64.2 points respectively.

In fact, Germany is already ahead thanks to better results in early qualifiers in 2010. And even better for the Bundesliga, it will automatically gain five points on Italy next season since the UEFA rankings are based only on the past five seasons, and 2005-6, a year Italy did well and Germany did not, is set to be erased.

An extra Champions League spot could mean an automatic increase of around 20 million euros ($25.6 million) coming into the Bundesliga via the fourth-best club. And that sum might increase. UEFA has set a new record in negotiating 1.1 billion euros for the marketing rights for the Champions and Europa Leagues this season, and the future is looking bright.

So you would think that German fans, whatever their usual club allegiances, will all be rooting for Bayern to win the CL in 2011, right? Well, not exactly. Germany's prospects depend on much more than just Bayern doing well.

A point is a point

Dortmund players celebrating

Teams like Dortmund are going to have a say in the battle

Many casual fans will be surprised to learned that the Europa League - a competition whose forerunner the UEFA Cup was once famously dismissed by German footballing legend Franz Beckenbauer as the "cup of losers" - plays a crucial rule in determining the all-decisive co-efficient.

For reasons known only to UEFA, wins in the Europa League are treated as equally significant to victories achieved in the far more prestigious Champions League. Extra points are only awarded for latter stages of the CL - otherwise, a win is a win.

This set-up has served the Bundesliga well in recent years. While only Bayern have come within shouting distance of a Champions League title in the past half-decade, good performances in the Europa League by teams like Schalke and Bremen have racked up valuable points for the Bundesliga in its pursuit of Serie A.

Germany lost the fourth Champions League spot to Italy after the 2001-02 season, and a good example of the knock-on effects that had for an individual club is Hertha Berlin.

Hertha finished fourth in the Bundesliga in 2008-9 but had to reduce personnel expenditures and got relegated last season. Had they been given a chance at CL qualifications, there wouldn't have been the same need to save, and Berlin might well have stayed up.

A fourth berth in the Champions League is thus a potential boom or saving grace for middling-to-good Bundesliga sides. So how are Germany's chances of getting that lifeline back from Italy?

Mixed bag

Brmen and Bayern players compete for the ball

Both Bremen and Bayern have Italian group-stage opponents

Bundesliga fans were cheered by the fact that four out of six German teams got relatively easy group-stage draws. On the other hand, none of Germany's international participants have gotten off to particularly stellar starts to their domestic campaigns.

Bayern, who play Roma on Wednesday, look a very good bet to progress, with Cluj and Basle their other opponents.

But elsewhere nothing can be taken for granted. Bremen were unlucky to draw reigning champions Inter Milan in their group, and their first group-stage match against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday is no walk in the park.

Dortmund also have a tough group in the Europa League, while Leverkusen, who host Rosenberg Trondheim on Thursday, drew defending champions Atletico Madrid.

But the Bundesliga's biggest two worries are Schalke and Stuttgart, both of whom lost their first three domestic matches.

Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer wound up in his own net

Schalke could be the Bundesliga's achilles' heel in Europe

International form and domestic form don't always converge, of course, and sometimes a break from national competition can inspire an otherwise faltering team.

But if Schalke and Stuttgart don't get their league campaigns back on track, they could de-prioritize their respective Champions and Europa League matches - which could deal a crushing blow to the Bundesliga's chances of moving up the rankings.

Still, none of the Serie A sides in the international competitions managed to win their first two league domestic matches either, and leaving aside Inter Milan, the Italian league in general looks neither strong nor deep.

Bayern will have a chance to draw first head-to-head blood against Rome, and Bremen have the opportunity to do further damage in their tie against Inter.

Whatever happens, this is going to be a competitive and interesting international season in terms of not only the top clubs' battle for the two international titles, but two leagues' struggle for a place in Europe's top three.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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