Soccer, otherwise known as “The Beautiful Game” is a sport beloved by every part of the world EXCEPT here in the United States. That seems to change for about 1 month every four years when the World Cup is played, and let’s be honest, we ARE getting better but we still have a long way to go. But that is another story for another day in another article. There is an event that has been going on for months that is basically the soccer equivalent of “March Madness”; it is known as “The Champions League”. Disclaimer, this shit can get complicated, BUT I will try and simplify it as much as possible.
There is actually more than 1 Champions league going on a one time. There is a Champions league for every FIFA governed region. So since there are 6 FIFA Confederations, you have 6 different Champions Leagues. The most well-known league is the UEFA Champions League which is in the European region. This is the most competitive league simply because Europe is where the best players go to play. This region consists of pro-clubs from the English Premier League (Man U, Chelsea, Man City,Arsenal, Etc.), Italian Serie A league (Juventus, AC Milan, Roma, Napoli, etc.), German Bundesliga (Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Wolfsburg, etc), French Ligue 1 (PSG, Lyon,Monaco,Nice, Etc.), Spanish La Liga (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, etc). Those leagues are the top leagues in the UEFA region but are also the top 5 leagues in the WORLD. There are other teams in smaller leagues in Europe that qualify for the Champions League, but most never reach the knockout phase.
The other regions include the CAF which is the African federation. CONCACAF, which is our region here in the United States which includes the USA, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and all of Central America. The CONMEBOL which is the South American Federation of Soccer. The OFC, which is the Oceania region, which includes countries like New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. The OFC is by far the smallest FIFA federation. Lastly, we have the AFC Federation which is the Asian Federation. This region consists of all of the Middle East and Southern Asia (Russia is considered UEFA) as well as Australia. Each region has their own league for pro-clubs.
So now the next question has to be, “so, how do these teams qualify for their respective Champions League?” The answer is actually quite simple…WIN. It’s not called the Champions League for nothing. This league is for winners and nothing else. The number of teams able to qualify depends on the number set for that region by FIFA. For example, the UEFA is the largest region in terms of teams so 79 teams qualify each year while the CONCACAF region only gets 24 teams per year and the CAF region gets 57 teams. Generally, any pro-club that wins the title in their respective league will get an invite to the league. But depending on the strength of that said league determines where you start. Lower league winner start in the preliminary and first rounds, while stronger league winners may start in the second or later. Stronger leagues also are able to get more teams in the league, so you may not have to necessarily win the title in your league to make the league. In the UEFA region, for example, in La Liga, the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga, you only need to finish in the top 4 of your league to qualify.
The most interesting part of this league is that this league runs concurrently with the normal leagues. You may have a game on Sunday then have to turn around and play a game on Tuesday or Wednesday in the Champions League. The format of the league is the same as the World Cup with one exception. You have the group stage in which the top two teams reach the knockout phase. The knockout phase or what we Americans just simply call a tournament is where the Champions League and the world cup differ. Each round in the knockout phase consists of home and home matches between the 2 teams playing. You take the total score of those games and that determines who moves on. Away goals are weighted more than home goals, so let’s say the score of the games combined is 1-1….but one of those goals is an away goal, then that team that scored the away goal wins and moves on. The semifinals are also in that format while the final game is just one game at a neutral stadium.
Now, once a winner is determined for each Champion’s league, those 6 winners now move on to the Fifa Club World Cup. And whoever wins that tournament is considered the best Soccer Club on the planet. And that my friends, is a quick crash course on the Champions League.
Are you having fun yet? I am!