Champions League beginner's guide

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.

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.

Indeed, while the European Cup remained the pinnacle of club soccer for 36 years, it was revamped as the Champions League and group stages were introduced, first to determine the finalists and eventually, to form a knockout bracket; the competition proper, following three qualification rounds, now consists of 32 teams, half of which are eliminated before a 16-strong knockout stage begins.

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

The knockout games are played over the course of two legs, with the team with the highest aggregate score progressing. Should the teams be tied after the two legs, the away goals rule—the team that’s scored the most times in the visiting leg—will be used; should that not find a winner, an extra 30 minutes will be played, with a penalty shootout the final straw if the teams still cannot be separated.

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. And the final is played in May.

Competition: Champions League
Genre: Sports

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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; last season, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona filled three of the four semifinal spots.

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

And while much has changed since Real beat Stade de Reims in the first ever European Cup final, the capital club remain the dominant force on the continent, with 11 wins in total, their most recent coming in 2016 against local rivals Atletico.

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.

Liverpool’s recovery from 3-0 down against AC Milan in 2005 to win the cup on penalties is considered by many to be the greatest soccer final ever played too. 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 English Premier League

• Beginner’s guide to Korea’s K League

• Beginner’s guide to La Liga

• Beginner’s guide to Serie A

• Beginner’s guide to Euro 2020

• Beginner’s guide to World Cup

• Beginner’s guide to FA Cup


Have any questions about the Champions League beginner’s guide? Let us know in the comments section below.


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