Football: Villa to poach Palace cup place

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ASTON VILLA have expressed a late interest in competing in this summer's InterToto Cup after being knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Atletico Madrid - threatening Crystal Palace's chances of reaching Europe next season.

When the Premier League asked for volunteers to enter the much-maligned competition - which can lead to entry into the Uefa Cup - only Palace expressed a desire to take part and so only one place was requested, when two were on offer.

Yet when Villa, who would probably need to win their remaining six Premiership matches to qualify automatically for Europe, were knocked out of the Uefa Cup at the quarter- final stage earlier this month, they had a change of heart.

The Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, indicated to his Premiership counterparts at their monthly meeting last Thursday that his club were considering entering the InterToto. So there is now competition for places in a tournament which English clubs have not entered for two years, when Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday ran into trouble with Uefa, football's governing body in Europe, for fielding weakened sides.

The reason is that Uefa has made the tournament easier for the bigger nations this year by allowing them to enter in the third round - effectively the quarter-finals - so an English representative would need to win only three two-legged matches to secure a potentially lucrative place in the Uefa Cup first round.

Yet the identity of that representative is still unclear. The Premiership's bottom club, Palace, had been promised a place - even if they were relegated - before Villa came forward and Premier League clubs are still in favour of the Eagles as John Gregory's side are so late with their application.

However, it is the Football Association which officially puts a nomination forward. Uefa rules dictate that in normal circumstances the successful club should be the one finishing higher in the league - and Villa are nine places above Palace.

The FA must now consider its position on the matter, while Uefa's InterToto committee will meet to discuss this "special situation" on 23 April. A Premier League spokesman said: "The process of nomination is ultimately a matter for the national association. The FA is fully aware of the situation and discussions have taken place between the Premier League and the FA."

Uefa also confirmed that Palace and Villa could only both go through if another association gave up one of its places by the official closing date for entries on 2 June.

The third round, featuring eight seeded teams and 16 winners of second- round matches, takes place on 18 and 25 July. There are three final-round ties - as there are three Uefa Cup places - to be held on 11 and 25 August, the same date as the preliminary round of the Uefa Cup.

Scotland, as well as Moldova, Andorra, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liechtenstein and San Marino, are not among the 45 nations supplying teams this year, although Spain and Italy will be competing for the first time.

The FA confirmed Villa had expressed an interest in entering the InterToto Cup. A spokesman said: "We're currently exploring every possible avenue with Uefa to achieve two places for English teams in the competition, and will continue to do that."

If an extra place did become available, only one of Palace and Villa could enter at the third-round stage, with the other club having to enter the competition earlier. Last week Bournemouth, finalists in the Auto Windscreens Shield, declared an interest in entering the InterToto should they win the lower division clubs' cup.