THE striking feature of the Champions League second-round draw was that in contrast to the men’s tournament, it gives title winners from the smaller European nations a decent chance of reaching the new lucrative group stage.

That’s because, as part of the fiendishly complicated new format, the early stages have a Champions Path and a League Path. Virtually all the big- name clubs are in the latter, having finished second or third last season behind teams who were given byes straight into the group stage.

Glasgow City may feel they could have been paired with easier opposition than Servette in the Champions Path, but it means there will be a Scottish or Swiss representative among the 16 clubs guaranteed a minimum of £342,765 just for participating in the group phase of the competition.

That will also be the case for either Osijek of Croatia or Iceland’s Breidablik. Neither would be instantly recognisable in top football circles, but the winner of their second-round tie will be in line for a big pay-out.

Juventus, who play Albanian champions Vllaznia, are the only side from the traditional five elite European leagues in the Champions Path. (Vllaznia, incidentally, play at the atmospheric Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder, where Scotland qualified for the 2019 World Cup.)

By contrast, eight of the 10 clubs involved in League Path second-round ties are from the top five nations.

Levante’s reward for beating Celtic and hosts Rosenborg in their first-round mini-tournament is a double-header against record seven-times Champions League winners Lyon.

Real Madrid play Manchester City. And Bordeaux, having qualified for a first Champions League under new Scotland head coach Pedro Martinez Losa, face 2013 and 2014 winners Wolfsburg.

There is nothing inherently unfair about this, of course. Levante and Bordeaux both finished third in their leagues and are only in the tournament because it has been expanded.

Fairness, however, is not what drives football at the top level. The eccentric genius in Nyon who devised the new formula deserves credit for ensuring at least six smaller nation champion clubs will contest the group stage. It is, after all, the “Champions” League.

However, and again as with the men’s tournament, it will only be a matter of time before the rich and powerful decide they have had enough of democracy.

WHILE Glasgow City have reached the last 16 of the Champions League five times (and the quarter-finals twice), they will receive at least a five-fold increase on any previous prize money if they beat Servette and go into next month’s group-stage draw.

The first leg is in Geneva on Wednesday, with the home game at Broadwood on September 8. If the latter is as dramatic as the last occasion the Scottish champions faced a Swiss side those turning up won’t be short changed.

In 2014, City played FC Zurich in the last 16, losing the away leg 2-1 despite a memorable Fiona Brown goal. It was 2-2 on the night in the second leg at the Excelsior with only nine minutes remaining, but goals from Jo Love and Suzanne Lappin secured what had seemed an impossible 5-4 aggregate win.

It was, as Lee Alexander said a few days ago, an iconic City performance. The goalkeeper, who had to wait a further three years for her first Scotland cap, watched the second half from the sidelines. She broke her collarbone making a brave and vital save at the feet of a Zurich forward.

THE League Cup group games will conclude today, with three teams hoping to join Glasgow City, Aberdeen, Hibernian, Rangers and Celtic in the quarter-finals. Regardless of the actual results, there will be seven SWPL 1 clubs and one from SWPL 2 in the last eight.

The group games have taken up the entire month and, it has to be said, have not got the season off to an auspicious start. Forfar Farmington withdrew after just one match, while the outcomes of two further ties on the opening Sunday had to be changed because Hearts and Partick Thistle fielded ineligible players.

The unsatisfactory nature of the group format continues today. St Johnstone have pulled out of their game against Celtic as they are unable to field a team.

Injuries and a positive Covid test were cited in the SWF statement (with Celtic being awarded a 3-0 win), but I understand the Perth club’s problems are much more deep-rooted.

Yet another potentially worrying development with the league season, including the reduced seven-team SWPL 2, starting next Sunday.