Champions League Guide for Dummies


Photo used with permission Wikimedia Commons

UEFA Champions League Final Cardiff 2017

With the World Cup having come to such an exhilarating end this past December, many first-time soccer watchers have found themselves immersed in the sport. Although the hype since the World Cup has cooled, the sport’s second-largest tournament has made its return to the footballing world, known as the UEFA Champions League.

The Champions League is a club competition comprising 32 teams from all of Europe’s 1st division leagues. All 32 clubs are divided into groups of four in a televised draw. Following the draw, the competition begins in late August, meaning this season’s Champions League is well underway. 

During the competition, each club plays each other in a double round-robin format, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the next round. The 3rd place finisher is dropped to a lower, less prestigious European competition known as the Europa League.

Following the group stage, the competition moves into the knockout stages, where in every stage beside the final, teams must play each other over the span of two legs home and away, with the team that scores the most winning the aggregate score thus advancing. 

The tournament then progresses into the Quarters, Semis, and Final which typically occurs around late May or early June. It is seen by many as the greatest club achievement possible, and the second largest trophy a player could win behind the World Cup. 

Contrary to the World Cup, it is not an international tournament with various countries competing against each other. It is a tournament concentrated in Europe with teams representing their location in their respective countries, (i.e Real Madrid Football Club representing Madrid, Spain, or Manchester City representing Manchester, England).


 For the clubs in Europe’s largest and most popular leagues, such as the Premier League in England or La Liga in Spain, finishing in the top four of your league qualifies you for next season’s Champions League. 


For clubs that compete in smaller leagues in other countries, a team may have to finish top two in their own league to qualify for the competition. Another way a team can participate is if they have won the tournament itself. If a club wins the tournament, they automatically qualify for the tournament next year, regardless of where they finish in their domestic league.


 In 2012 for example, Chelsea only managed 6th in the Premier League, though were able to qualify for the Champions League for the next season because they had won it. This also means that the club that finished 4th in the Premier League that year, (Tottenham Hotspur) would be relegated to Europa League due to the four-team threshold being reached. The final way to qualify is through winning the Europa League, which can be reached by finishing 5th in one of the major European leagues, or through a qualifier.


With the tournament approaching the quarter-finals, the next question would be who are the current favorites to win the trophy?


For many pundits and fans alike, defending champions Real Madrid are in the conversation of potential winners. However, there are still other powerhouses with world-class squads such as Bayern Munich from Munich Germany, Manchester City, and a young but poised and talented Italian team Napoli, that are all still aiming for the title,   ‘Champions of Europe’. 


Although as the World Cup has shown, soccer (or Football) is highly unpredictable, and any team good enough to qualify can win. Ultimately, for a first-time watcher, a recent fan, or someone simply seeking to learn more about the sport, this is your guide for the Champions League competition.