For over half a century, the UEFA Champions League is the championship that European teams aspire to win. Although the modern competition has been competed for since 1992, the competition in its previous format has been played for each year since 1955. It has become known worldwide as one of the most prestigious trophy competitions in world football.
The three knockout stages begin in mid July. These knockout stages yield sixteen teams who then go through to join sixteen seeded teams in group stages consisting of eight groups of four teams. Eight group winners and eight runners up compete in the knockout stages until the final is played in May. Twenty one different clubs have won the competition. Of these, twelve have won the Champions League more than once. Real Madrid hold the record for the most wins. Milan follow with seven wins. Liverpool are the most successful British club with five wins.
The first season of the competition saw Real Madrid beat Stade de Reims 4-3 in Paris. Real Madrid dominated the competition in the first five seasons culminating in the 1960 final in Glasgow against Eintracht Frankfurt which Real Madrid won 7-3, and despite the scoreline, Eintracht played their part in a memorable game.
The first British success came in 1967 when Celtic beat Internazionale 2-1 in Lisbon. This was followed in the following year by a famous victory at Wembley by Manchester United over Benfica. United won 4-1 ten years after the tragic Munich air disaster which cruelly deprived Manchester United of some young talented players. Dutch football teams dominated the competition for the next five years followed by the emergence of a great Bayern Munich side which claimed the cup over the next three seasons. English teams followed the Bayern lead and took control of the competition for the next five years with Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa all taking the trophy. Since the mid 1980s, no country has managed to put together a run of wins, but the big names of European football have all been represented on the winners rostrum; AC Milan, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid again. Manchester United had already won the Premiership title in England, but seemed to be losing their final in Barcelona in 1999 when two inspired substitutions by Sir Alex Ferguson saw United turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win with almost the last kick of the game. Recent competitions again have failed to throw up a dominant country.
This year Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have all made their way to the knockout stages of the competition and have mirrored recent European success for English teams. The final will be played in Rome on 27th May 2009, and although English teams would hope to feature in the final, there can be no guarantees as the European Champions League provides surprises and great football.
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