The UEFA Champions League is an annual club football competition that is organized in the continent of Europe by the Union of European Football Associates (UEFA). The tournament is contested by the top clubs across Europe. Real Madrid are the holders of the latest Champions League competition.
The Champions League is one of the most stellar club football tournaments in world football and the most prestigious in the European continent. The continent sees the champions of all the top-tier leagues across Europe enter the fray along with one or more teams depending on the strength of the league in which they feature. UEFA has a feature by which it measures the co-efficient of each league and each club according to which the qualification and Group stage draws are made.
The grand finale of the UEFA Champions League is the most watched annual sporting event in the world. The 2012-13 final drew 360 million viewers on television, posting the highest figures till date.
The competition previously went by the name of the European Cup or the European Champion Club’s Cup. The first European Cup was conceived in Paris back in 1955.
The current format for the tournament along with the current name was introduced in 1992. The move entailed adding a new group stage which had not been the case previously. The move allowed room for participation of more clubs other than the league champions from the top leagues. Previously, only league champions featured in the competition which only had knock-out rounds.
While most countries are still able to enter one or two clubs for the tournament, Europe’s top leagues are now afforded up to four slots in the premier club competition.
Every season, the Champions League usually begins in mid-July prior to the beginning of the regular club football season in Europe’s top leagues. The first stage is usually the qualification stage and involves three qualifying rounds and a play-off round that sees the competitors fight for a spot in the Group stage.
A total of 32 teams feature in the Group stages of the competition. The teams are divided into eight groups of four teams each. The grouping is done while keeping in mind the UEFA coefficient rankings of the teams. The four teams play each other home and away between September and December every year.
While the two top teams go through to the Round of 16, the third placed team goes through to the first knock-out stage of the UEFA Europa League. The team that finishes bottom are knocked out of Europe. The knock-out rounds traditionally start in mid-February and the finalists are determined by the final week of April.
The knock-outs sees the two sides who are drawn together play home and away legs. The team which has the lead on aggregate or has an advantage with respect to scoring more away goals compared to the opposition when the tie finishes level on aggregate goes through to the next round.
The team that wins the competition also qualifies for the UEFA Super Cup that is played between the champions of the Champions League and the Europa League as well as the FIFA Club World Cup.
Having won the competition 11 times in their history, Spanish giants Real Madrid are the most successful club in the competition. The competition has been won by 22 different clubs in its history and 12 of those sides have won it on more than one occasion. Following the restructuring of the competition, no club has managed to retain their title. AC Milan were the last club to have successfully defended their title in the 1989-90 season. Real Madrid are the current holders after defeating Atletico Madrid on penalties in the 2016 final in Milan.