The UEFA Champions League is widely considered to be the world’s premier club competition. It pits 32 of the most successful clubs in Europe, as determined by their standing in their domestic leagues the previous season, to crown the champions of the continent. Played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights scattered throughout the season, the Champions League runs from late September to late May with a hiatus in December and January.
The tournament currently operates under a group and knockout-round format, beginning with the 32 clubs seeded into eight four-team groups. Most of the teams in the group stage were automatically selected, but many had to earn their spots in a preliminary qualifying round with a two-game home-and-home series.
Each team plays the other three in its group twice — once at home and once on the road — with three points being awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for loss. The top two teams in each group after six games then advance to the next round.
In the Round of 16, teams are drawn against one another to play a home-and-home series of two games, with the winner determined by aggregate score over the two legs. If the aggregate score is tied, the team that has scored more away goals advances. If they are deadlocked on away goals as well, the sides play 30 minutes of extra time at the end of the second leg with the possibility of a penalty shootout.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals work the same way. The champion is determined by one match played at a neutral site with the options of extra time and penalty kicks on a Wednesday in late May. For the first time, it will be held on a Saturday in 2010.
Teams and Qualification
UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, assigns coefficients to each of its member associations, based on the strength of their domestic leagues.
It means that the strongest leagues, like the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, or Spain’s La Liga, each send four teams to the competition each year, with the top two finishers the previous season qualifying automatically and the next two making it to the preliminary qualifying stage.
Weaker leagues send fewer teams to the tournament proper and the qualifying round to ultimately fill out the field of 32.