UEFA Changes Champions League Ruling; Liverpool Will Defend Their European Title Next Year

LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool will be allowed to defend their Champions League trophy next season and UEFA has changed its rules for future competitions European soccer's governing body said on Friday.

Liverpool's failure to finish in the Premier League's top four meant they were not entitled to a place in next season's Champions League despite lifting the trophy after a penalty shootout win over AC Milan in last month's final.

UEFA's executive committee decided however in 'an exceptional decision' to allow them into the competition's first qualifying round with their opening match on July 12 or 13. The draw for the first qualifying round takes place on June 24.

To retain the Champions League title next season Liverpool would have to play 19 matches.

It means that England will have five representatives in the competition champions Chelsea runners-up Arsenal Manchester United Everton and Liverpool.

It is the first time any country has had five representatives in the continent's premier club competition and according to UEFA will be the last.

UEFA's statement said the number of clubs allowed per national association 'will remain stable based on coefficient ranking.'

From next season a club winning the Champions League but finishing outside their country's allocation will qualify automatically at the expense of the lowest of the clubs above them.

Liverpool's presence next season means that the four other English clubs' financial share in the Champions League will be reduced as the pot is cut five ways.

'There will be no country protection for Liverpool' UEFA said meaning they could be drawn against another English side including city rivals Everton if they progress to the latter stages.

'It was decided reasonably quickly it was a consensus position' UEFA spokesman William Gaillard told Sky Sports.

'The executive committee felt it was the best and wisest decision.'

It is also good news for Fenerbahce Wisla Krakow and the teams vying for the Romanian league title.

Because UEFA had always allocated a slot in the group stage for the holders Liverpool's absence opened a slot that will now be filled by Turkish champions Fenerbahce who originally would have had to play in the third qualifying round.

Polish champions Wisla move up from the second qualifying round to the third while the as-yet-unknown Romanian champions move up from the first qualifying round.

Manchester City who finished eighth in the Premier League had hoped to take the UEFA Cup slot vacated by Liverpool but UEFA said that would not be the case and no extra club would go into the second-tier competition.

The thorny problem of Liverpool's participation in next season's competition looked to be a non-issue at halftime in the final in Istanbul as Milan cruised into a 3-0 lead.

But Liverpool's stunning three-goal blitz in six minutes turned the game on its head and a goalless period of extra time was followed by the English side's 3-2 victory in a penalty shootout.

Liverpool's fifth European Cup provided a glorious end to what had been a frustrating domestic season.

It meant a real headache for European soccer's ruling body however and its regulation of a maximum of four teams per country.

England's Football Association had already made it clear that it would not follow a Spanish precedent by putting Liverpool forward at the expense of the Premier League's fourth-placed finishers Everton.

Real Madrid were crowned European champions in 2000 but finished fifth in the Primera Liga prompting the Spanish FA to enter them for the following season's Champions League and relegate fourth-placed Real Zaragoza to the UEFA Cup.