Read our Champions League beginner’s guide to get up to speed on what many regard as the world’s best club soccer tournament.

To be considered as an all-time great team in European domestic soccer, a win in the European Cup or, as it’s known in the modern game, the UEFA Champions League is an imperative accompaniment.

While the World Cup is considered to be the pinnacle of all soccer, the UEFA Champions League is home to the best club sides European soccer has to offer. Given the quality involved, the fine margins between teams and the prestige the competition possesses, as a supporter, winning this competition is the pinnacle.

UEFA stands for Union of European Football Associations.

Champions League beginner’s guide

The continental tournament has undergone a few facelifts down the years. The first running of the European Cup took place in the 1955-56 term, when 16 teams battled it out for glory in a straight knockout format; the maiden competition, and the subsequent four, was won by a Real Madrid team inspired by talisman Alfredo Di Stefano.

During much of the tournament’s existence, only the champion from each country, plus the defending champion, was able to compete. Now up to four teams can qualify from each domestic division.

After 36 years, UEFA revamped its headline competition. This saw the introduction of the group stage, meaning 32 teams compete in the competition proper. Oftentimes, teams must go through qualification stages just to reach the group stage. Yet, after the group stage, most of the tournament’s drama transpires in the knockout stages.

SEE MORE: Where to watch UEFA Champions League and Europa League on US TV and Internet

UCL Format

The knockout games run over two legs. The team with the better aggregate score advances.

However, teams often tie after their two games. In that case, we resort to the away goals rule. the team that’s scored the most times in the visiting leg advances.

Should that not find a winner, an extra 30 minutes transpires. If there is still a tie following that, we see a penalty shootout.

The playoff qualification rounds begin in June and are played from June until August. They determine the final teams to qualify for the Group Stage. The Group Stage begins in September and ends in February. The Knockout stage runs from March through the end of April. Then, the final occurs in May.

Knockout stages

While the tournament’s early editions were a cosmopolitan affair, the final rounds of the modern Champions League continues to cater for familiar faces.

In the past decade, Spanish, English and German teams have all strangleholds on the Champions League at various points. For example, five of the six teams in Finals from 2014 to 2016 hailed from Spain.

SEE MORE: Schedule of UEFA Champions League games on US TV and streaming

Additionally, we see consistent success for certain clubs. Yes, Real Madrid won the first European Cup Final over Stade de Reims. The Spanish side has well over 10 titles, most recently in 2018.

However, significant change took place since then.

Upsets galore

Despite its ruthlessness, the new format has paved the way for some shock winners in recent years, particularly those enjoyed by Porto in 2004 and Chelsea, who defended manfully on the way to glory, in 2012 the standout triumphs.

Many consider Liverpool’s recovery from 3-0 down against AC Milan in 2005 to win the cup on penalties the greatest final in the sport’s history. It’s also been a crowning moment for some of the best sides Europe have ever seen, including iconic XIs from Ajax, Milan, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona.

READ MORE: Name variations of soccer leagues, cups and tournaments

Browse through these beginners guides to the many of the popular soccer leagues:

Soccer Beginner's guides

• Beginner's guide to soccer rules

• Beginner's guide to Argentine Primera División

• Beginner's guide to Bundesliga

• Beginner's guide to Championship

• Beginner's guide to Champions League

• Beginner's guide to Copa América

• Beginner's guide to English Premier League

• Beginner's guide to FA Cup

• Beginner's guide to Korea's K League

• Beginner's guide to La Liga

• Beginner's guide to Serie A

Beginner's guide to Women's World Cup

• Beginner's guide to World Cup

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