As the season moves towards its conclusion, Fulham look to have an excellent chance of qualifying for next term's Intertoto Cup. A competition much derided over the years, the three UEFA Cup places on offer has turned the tournament into a sought after end-of-season prize.
There are still mixed views about the advisability of undertaking competitive football so early in the pre-season, and the size of Fulham's squad throws serious doubts on the Club's ability to cope with two major competitions if UEFA Cup entry could actually be achieved.
Manager Jean Tigana has cited Ipswich as an example of team without sufficient strength in depth to deal with both, and the Suffolk Club are now suffering the disastrous consequences in the League.
"I would like to qualify for the Intertoto Cup," said Tigana, "If we have a big enough squad there is no reason why we could not use this as a way into Europe. However if the squad is not big enough we must be careful.
"Ipswich qualified for Europe and they have suffered in the League because they do not have the squad. If you do not have a big enough squad Europe can be very dangerous."
Fulham are currently in competition with Aston Villa and Everton for the two English places up for grabs. The highest placed finisher of the three will enter the tournament at the third round stage while the second highest team will play in the second round. (unless it's Villa, who in their wisdom elected only to enter at the third round).
It is a requirement of entry that Clubs must finish in the top 12 of their League to be eligible. A second round entry for Fulham would see them play a team from either Yugoslavia or Finland on 6/7 and 13/14 July, the third round is due to be played on 20/21 and 27 July.
Assistant manager Christian Damiano will be more than happy to see Fulham back into action in July.
"You have an opportunity to play games in Europe," he said, "And it won't change anything for us because the second round is in the middle of July and we start training in the last week of June. That would be no problem."
Brief Summary of the Competition:
The competition is staged over five rounds (ten match days) as a knockout competition, with matches played on a two-legged home and away basis.
Forty clubs will enter the first round with the winners joined in the second round by a further twelve clubs. Eight additional clubs come in at the third round, leaving twelve winners to compete in the semi-finals.
The six teams who emerge victorious from the semi-finals will compete in the three finals. The three winners will then qualify for the first round of the 2002/03 UEFA Cup.
Key Competition Dates
First Round: 22/23 June (first legs) and 29/30 June (second legs).
Second Round: 6/7 July (first legs) and 13/14 July (second legs).
Third Round: 20/21 July (first legs) and 27 July (second legs).
Semi-Finals: 31 July (first legs) and 7 August (second legs)
Finals: 13 August (first legs) and 27 August (second legs)