UEFA’s executive committee has revamped the format of the Champions League, scrapping the second group stage in a bid to reduce the fixture congestion currently besetting European football.

There will still be 32 clubs involved at the start of the competition. Eight groups of four will compete in group stage one. This will be followed by a two-leg knockout system for the last 16, the quarter finals and the semi finals. The changes will come in to force at the start of the 2003-04 competition.

UEFA president Lennart Johansson, claimed the format changes had been made with the best interests of the competition and European football in mind.

“We believe this reduction in the size of the competition is in the longer-term interests of everyone involved – clubs, players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors and European football in general,” he said.

“It is not easy to change a competition which is recognised as the best club event in the world, but sometimes you need to act for the future.

“We have been listening carefully to our stakeholders, and it is clear that there are a variety of views – however, we believe this is a moment for leadership in the wider interests of the game.

“As the European governing body, UEFA has to consider manydifferent factors, both sporting and commercial, and at the same time think ahead.

“We want to see a better balance in European football, a less congested fixture list for players and clubs and a flagship competition which has the right sporting mix and brand strength.

“Changing circumstances in the commercial environment are important, but so is planning for the future and basing your competitions on public interest and long-term development.

“We believe that this move will send the right signals to the whole of European football about how we can work together to tackle some of the challenges ahead.”