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How does the Champions League work?
Crafted to determine the best football club in Europe, this annual tournament has been showcasing the best of the best since 1955. But how does the UEFA Champions League
work? Here’s a simple breakdown.
How can teams qualify, and how many get into the tournament?
There are 32 teams in total. The competing clubs are based on how well they do in their domestic league, and also, potentially, the Champions League and Europa the previous year. If they have won either, they are guaranteed entry into the following season’s Champions League.
The amount of teams per domestic league that are included in qualification depend on their respective UEFA coefficient scores, which is a value determined by how well they perform in the previous five Champions League tournaments. The higher the score, the more teams from that league can qualify, and the easier access they get into the initial group stages. Leagues with lower coefficient scores will need to compete in additional qualification rounds.
What happens next?
The calendar of events is roughly as follows:
- June to August: qualification
- Late August: group stage draw
- September to December: group stage matches
- December: round of 16 draw
- February to March: round of 16 matches
- Late March: quarter-final and semi-final draws
- April: quarter-finals
- Late April to early May: semi-finals
- Around late May to early June: the final
Before the group stage begins, the four teams per group are drawn. During a live draw, there are four pots from which the club names are drawn.
Pot One will contain the Champions and Europa League winners from the previous season, as well as the title winners of each domestic league. If the team won Champions League or Europa and also their domestic league title, then the team that won the title in the seventh-ranked league, and potentially eighth, will also be in Pot One.
The other pots will have the rest of the teams, seeded according to their respective coefficient scores. Then, a team from each pot will be drawn to create a well-balanced group of four, with a mixture of higher scoring teams with lower scoring teams, until the eight groups are decided. No teams from the same domestic league will be in the same group together.
What is the group stage?
The four teams per group will all play each other twice, once home and once away and a mini table will form, where they acquire three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. The top two teams in each table for each group will go through to the round of 16. In the case of a draw, then the tie-breakers kick in, decided in this order:
- Higher number of points obtained in the games between the two teams.
- Whichever team has the better goal difference in the games between the two teams.
- Higher number of goals scored in the games between the two teams.
- Better goal difference in the group table.
- Higher number of goals scored in the group table.
- Most amount of wins in the group table.
- Higher number of away wins across all matches played.
- Least amount of bookings based on yellow and red cards shown across all group matches, with a red counting for three points, a yellow one point, and two yellows in one match making up three points.
- Higher club coefficient score.
How does the round of 16 work?
The 16 clubs go on to the knockout stages of the tournament, where another live draw will take place. This time, there will be two pots: the first one holding the top teams from each group, while the second one will contain the teams that were runners-up. One team from each pot will be drawn to determine the match-ups, with the same rule that they will not have a match-up with teams from the same domestic league, as well as the rule that no two teams that played in the same group will be matched up either.
The teams will then proceed to play against their drawn club, once home and once away. Whoever scores the most goals across both legs will proceed onto the semi-finals. If the goals scored are even, then an extra 30 minutes’ playtime will be added to their last game, after which, if no deciding goals are scored, they will go into a penalty shootout, where the winner will be determined.
Quarter-finals and semi-finals
The draws for quarter-final match-ups and semi-finals will also happen. The teams for the semi-finals won’t be known at this stage (so a team name placeholder will be used indicating the winner of a particular match-up), but will feature the eight teams that will win in the round of 16 for the quarter-finals, and then the four winners of the quarter-finals who will proceed on to the semi-finals.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals will then play out exactly in the same manner as the round of 16, with the two teams winning their match-ups in the semi-finals going on to play the final.
The Champions League final
This will be the one ultimate match that will decide the champions of Europe. It is played at a neutral venue predetermined before the tournament starts and there will be a draw to discern which team is “home” and which is considered “away” (this makes a difference in terms of the kits they wear, the dressing rooms they occupy, etc.).
The match will be played according to the same rules as the round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals, in that if there’s a draw, there will be 30 extra minutes added to the game, and if no goals are scored, or they’re still even, then they will go into a penalty shootout to allow the champions to be ultimately decided.
Who are the biggest winners?
With a staggering 13 titles to their name, Real Madrid has the most Champions League wins.
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