City march back into Europe after 24-year wait

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The Independent Online

Manchester City are back in Europe for the first time since 1979 after England were confirmed as winners of Uefa's Fair Play table.

City were nominated as England's representatives last month after finishing fifth in the Premier League's disciplinary table, behind Manchester United, Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool, all of whom had already qualified for European competition through their league positions. It means City will enter the draw for the Uefa Cup qualifying round on 20 June. The first leg of their tie has been pencilled in for 14 August, with the return game two weeks later.

City's manager, Kevin Keegan, has stated his dislike for the system, which awards points based on criteria such as positive play, respect for opponents and the referee, plus behaviour of team officials and crowds. Keegan said he would prefer the next highest team in the Premiership - Everton - to be given England's place, which was won at the expense of Sweden, although that will not prevent him accepting it.

Their first opponents are unlikely to be one of Europe's biggest names. So far Sporting Lisbon and Steaua Bucharest are the highest-profile teams to be listed in the qualifying draw but England's Uefa coefficient will probably mean a trip to a club from own of Europe's less successful nations.

It will be City's eighth European campaign, who won the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1970 under Joe Mercer by beating the Polish club Gornik Zabrze. Their last game was a 3-1 defeat by the German club Borussia Mönchengladbach in the second leg of a Uefa Cup fourth-round tie in 1979.

Uefa, the game's European governing body, also announced that from the start of the 2004-2005 season they will take advantage of the Champions' League reverting to only one group stage and schedule Uefa Cup matches so that they do not always fall in the same week as games in their leading competition. Since the demise of the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1999, Uefa Cup games have mainly taken place on Thursdays with Champions' League fixtures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Newcastle United, Chelsea and Rangers will learn their third qualifying round opponents for the Champions' League on 25 July when the draw is made in Geneva. Celtic, who are in the second qualifying round, and Dundee, in the Uefa Cup, will learn their first European opponents on 20 June.

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