While all eyes in Europe are on the European Championships which enter the Semifinal stage this week, the new look 2024-25 UEFA Champions League officially kicks off with the First Qualifying Round this week.

This year’s edition features a brand new format with a 36-team ‘League Stage’ which will see all 36 teams play eight matches (Four home; four away against eight different teams) in a true ‘League’ format. Changes happen from the very start of the competition. In previous years, the First Qualifying Round involved the very bottom of the UEFA coefficient table. This year, we have 28 teams involved in the First Round.

Qualifying will determine 7 teams that will join 29 teams that have direct entry to the League Stage. Those 29 teams are:

  1. Manchester City (ENG)
  2. Arsenal (ENG)
  3. Liverpool (ENG)
  4. Aston Villa (ENG)
  5. Real Madrid (ESP)
  6. FC Barcelona (ESP)
  7. Girona FC (ESP)
  8. Atletico Madrid (ESP)
  9. Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
  10. VfB Stuttgart (GER)
  11. Bayern Munich (GER)
  12. RB Leipzig (GER)
  13. Borussia Dortmund (GER)
  14. Inter Milan (ITA)
  15. AC Milan (ITA)
  16. Juventus (ITA)
  17. Atalanta (ITA)
  18. Bologna (ITA)
  19. Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
  20. AS Monaco (FRA)
  21. Stade Brestois (FRA)
  22. PSV Eindhoven (NED)
  23. Feyenoord (NED)
  24. Sporting CP (POR)
  25. Benfica (POR)
  26. Club Brugge (BEL)
  27. Celtic (SCO)
  28. Sturm Graz (AUT)
  29. Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)

Five of the seven teams that will join the above list will be determined in the ‘Champions Route’ (featuring actual champions) while 2 teams will come from the ‘non-League Route’. Draws have already been made for the first 2 Qualifying Rounds. Here is a rundown:

First Qualifying Round (Champions Path) – Matches July 9/10 & 16/17

Slovan Bratislava (SVK) vs FC Struga (MKD)
The New Saints (WAL) vs Decic Tuzi (MNE)
FK Borac Banja Luka (BIH) vs Egnatia Rrogozhine (ALB)
Hamrun Spartans (MLT) vs Lincoln Red Imps (GIB)
Ballkani (KOS) vs UE Santa Coloma (AND)
Flora Tallinn (EST) vs NK Celje (SVN)
KI Klasvik (FRO) vs Differdange 03 (LUX)
FK Panevezys (LTU) vs HJK Helsinki (FIN)*
RFS Riga (LVA) vs Larne FC (NIR)*
Vikingur Reykjavik (ISL) vs Shamrock Rovers (IRL)
AC Virtus (SMR) vs FCSB (ROM)
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL) vs Dinamo Batumi (GEO)
Ordabasy Shymkent (KAZ) vs Petrocub Hincesti (MDA)
Dinamo Minsk (BLR) vs Pyunik Yerevan (ARM)

  • 14 winners advance to the Second Qualifying Round (Champions route)
  • 14 losers are transferred to the Europa Conference League in the Second Qualifying Round (Champions Path)
    • Losers are given a bye to the Third Qualifying Round of the Europe Conference League (2 teams)
Second Qualifying Round (Champions route) – Matches July 23/24 & 30/31

Fourteen winners of First Qualifying Round plus…

  1. Sparta Praha (CZE)
  2. Bodo Glimt (NOR)
  3. FC Midtjylland (DEN)
  4. PAOK Thessaloniki (GRE)
  5. Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)
  6. APOEL Nicosia (CYP)
  7. Malmo FF (SWE)
  8. Jagiellonia Bialystok (POL)
  9. Ferencvaros (HUN)
  10. Qarabag FK (AZE)
  • 24 teams in total
  • 12 winners advance to the Third Qualifying Round (Champions route)
  • 12 losers are transferred to the Europa League in the Third Qualifying Round (Champions Path)
Third Qualifying Round (Champions route) – Matches August 6/7 & 13
  • 12 teams advancing from the Second Qualifying Round
  • 6 winners advance to Playoff Round (Champions Path)
  • 6 losers transferred to Europa League Playoff Round
Playoff Round (Champions path) – Matches August 20/21 & 27/28

Six winners of the third Qualifying Round plus…

  1. Red Star Belgrade (SRB)
  2. Galatasaray (TUR)
  3. Young Boys (SUI)
  4. Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
  • 10 teams in total
  • 5 winners advancing to the League Stage
  • 5 losers transferred to the Europa League League Stage

The non-champions route to enter the UCL

The non-Champions Route starts with the second Qualifying Round. The draw has already determined the 2 pairings:

Second Qualifying Round (Non-Champions route) – Matches July 23/24 & 30/31

FC Lugano (SUI) vs Fenerbahce (TUR)
Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) vs Partizan Belgrade (SRB)

  • 2 winners advance to the Third Qualifying Round (Non-Champions Route)
  • 2 losers transferred to Europa League Third Qualifying Round (Non-Champions Route)
Third Qualifying Round (Non-Champions route) – Matches August 6/7 & 13

Two winners from the second Qualifying Round plus…

  1. Lille OSC (FRA)
  2. FC Twente (NED)
  3. Union Saint-Gilloise (BEL)
  4. Glasgow Rangers (SCO)
  5. FC Salzburg (AUT)
  6. Slavia Praha (CZE)
  • 8 teams total
  • 4 winners go to Playoff Round (Non-Champions route)
  • 4 losers go to the Europa League League Stage
Playoff Round (Non-Champions path) – Matches August 20/21 & 27/28

Four winners of the Third Qualifying Round for non-champions

  • 2 winners advance to the League Stage
  • 2 losers go to the to Europa League League Phase

And there you have the qualifying procedure for the new look UEFA Champions League. It’s worth noting that all three European club competitions (Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Conference) will have a 36-team league format. UEFA Conference teams will only play six matches compared to eight for the other two competitions). No more teams are dropping down to another competition after the League Stage. In other words, for teams finishing 25-36 in their respective leagues, their European seasons will end.

Another change that is being overlooked is that once the Round of 16 teams are known, a single draw will determine opponents through the Final. So no longer will there be a draw for the Quarterfinals but rather a ‘bracket’ is created that American fans are familiar with other sports.

And finally, I wanted to highlight some numbers: 236 teams in total are entering the various European competitions when considering all qualifying rounds. 108 teams will compete in the 3 competitions (36 teams x 3). That’s a huge number. And credit should be given to UEFA for widening the net and having more teams share in the wealth that these competitions produce.