The UEFA Champions League

The UEFA Champions League was first played in the 1992/93 season as a replacement for the European Champion Clubs' Cup or the European Cup, established in 1955. It is easily the most prestigious club football tournament and has gotten even more popular following the introduction of the mini-league group stage system. The new format resembles the FIFA World Cup, where a knockout phase follows the group stage.

The competition has expanded on several occasions. What initially started with eight teams is now a tournament of 32 clubs if you exclude the qualification stage.

UEFA Champions League

History

Though the standard practice is to look at the Champions League and the European Cup as the same thing, the two have subtle yet outstanding differences that influenced the transition from one to the other. Firstly, the latter had a round-robin format that the former's group play format replaced. However, for statistics purposes, the two competitions are lumped together.

Since the competition's inception, the title has almost always gone to the top European teams. The competition has recorded a few surprises, but these have been far between. Perhaps Porto's 2004 victory counts as the biggest.

Format and Participation

The 1992/93 edition (inaugural) featured eight teams. These teams played in two groups, with the final match pitting the group leaders.
During the third edition (1994/95), the competition expanded to 16 clubs. During this edition, the tournament was played in four groups, followed by three knockout stages. The competition was expanded again in 1997, bringing the total number of participants to 24. In this edition, the groups increased to six. However, the knockout stages remained unchanged at three.

Another expansion happened in the 1999/2000 season. A total of 32 teams participated (excluding the qualification phase). In this expansion, the tournament ended up with eight groups. The first group stage culminated into the second, followed by a knockout stage.

During the 2014/15 season, the competition abandoned the second group stage and introduced the round of 16, a knockout stage.

The current format begins in late June each year with a preliminary round and three qualifying rounds, followed by a playoff. All these matches are played home and away. The six clubs that survive these stages join the 26 that qualify in advance based on their position in the various European domestic leagues. UEFA draws the 32 teams into eight groups. The group winners and their runners-up proceed to the knockout stages.

Stats and Records

Since the competition's inception, Spain's Real Madrid has won the most times (13). A.C. Milan is second with seven titles (fourth position), while Bayern Munich and Liverpool are joint third with six wins apiece. Barcelona is fifth with five wins. Ajax Amsterdam has won it four times (sixth position).

Internazionale Milan and Manchester United have each lifted the trophy thrice. Juventus, Benfica, Porto, Chelsea, and recent perennial absentee Nottingham Forest have won the Champions League twice each.

Other winners are Feyenoord Rotterdam, Celtic, FCSB, PSV Eindhoven, Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa, Marseille, Hamburger SV, and Red Star Belgrade, who have won the title once each.

The competition's winner gets an automatic qualification to the next Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the UEFA Super Cup.