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Aston Villa's record in European competition as they chase UEFA Champions League place


Aston Villa are closing in on securing a top-four finish in the Premier League, and the hugely lucrative bonus of a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Unai Emery’s side have taken huge strides since the Spaniard’s arrival in October 2022. The former Arsenal boss took over a team who were languishing two places above the relegation zone under Steven Gerrard, but he has masterminded a transition that now sees them preparing to battle with the elite of European football once again.

The Sporting News takes a look at their history in Europe and what it would mean for Villa to qualify for the Champions League next season.

MORE: Explaining the new Champions League format?

Since the competition was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992, Aston Villa have never played in Europe’s elite club competition. They have, however, competed in the old European Cup, which they famously won in 1982. 

Villa secured the ultimate club prize in Rotterdam in May that year, when they beat Bayern Munich in the final.

They had navigated past Valur (Iceland), Dynamo Berlin (East Germany), Dynamo Kiev (USSR) and Anderlecht (Belgium) to make the showpiece — but their chances took a turn for the worse when goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer was forced off early in the final due to an injury.

He was replaced by Nigel Spink, a relatively inexperienced youngster with only one previous first-team appearance under his belt. However, Spink’s second outing for Villa turned into a spectacle as he made a string of heroic saves to etch his name into Aston Villa club folklore.

In the 67th minute, winger Tony Morley beat his man to deliver a pinpoint cross from the left flank and he found Peter Withe, who arrived unmarked at the far post and shinned the ball into the back of the net to win the European Cup.

Starting with a first-round exit from the 1975-76 UEFA Cup — the predecessor to the Europa League — there have been 18 seasons when Villa have played in Europe, including in the Europa Conference League this season, where they have reached the semifinal stage.

They earned a comeback 2-2 draw in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the 1977-78 competition after Johan Cruyff had scored one of Barcelona’s goals at Villa Park, and they took the lead at Camp Nou before the Spanish giants produced two late replies to progress 4-3 on aggregate.

Better was to come four seasons later, when that 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam landed Villa the European Cup and allowed them to enter the UEFA Super Cup the following season, which they won with revenge over Barca.

Their European Cup defence ended in the quarterfinals against Juventus, and five early exits from the UEFA Cup followed between 1983 and the 1997-98 season, when they reached the quarterfinals but were beaten on away goals despite a second-leg home win over Atletico Madrid.

Alongside Paris Saint-Germain and Troyes, Villa were one of three winners of the 2001 Intertoto Cup — a tournament with a reward of UEFA Cup entry, which was discontinued in 2008.

* Club also won the Super Cup and finished as Intercontinental Cup runners-up

** Won the Intertoto Cup

*** Qualified through Intertoto Cup

While he has never won the Champions League, Emery’s most successful finish in the competition was making the semifinals with Villarreal in 2021/22.

MORE: All-time list of UEFA Champions League and European Cup winners

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