Article by Daniel Millions
The UEFA Champions League is the main soccer tournament for the European top clubs. Every year the teams from all the major leagues compete against each other, firstly in a group stage, followed by a series of straight knock out rounds culminating with the final match held in a different European city every year. The current holders of the competition are AC Milan, who beat Liverpool 2-1 in the 2007 final held in Athens, Greece.
Origins of the Competition
Established in 1992, the UEFA Champions League evolved from the now defunct European Cup. Originally only the previous champions of each European league were eligible to enter the competition. To satisfy the growing pressure from Europe’s top clubs for a European league, UEFA decided to set up a tournament that will allow not only the champions but also the other top three or four clubs in each league to compete.
This revamped tournament began in 1992 under the title ‘UEFA Champions League’. The winners of the tournament play off in an annual exhibition match against the champions of the South American equivalent of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores.
Organization of the Tournament
Each year, thirty-two teams are able to enter the tournament at the group stage. There are sixteen teams that qualify automatically by either winning their league or finishing as the runner-up. The remaining teams are the winners from a pre-qualifying round held in August each year. The number of clubs from each country is dependent on the number of points they have accumulated over a five year period. This is calculated through a combination of each country’s club results in previous tournaments and the results of their respective national teams in the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships.
The group stage of the Champions League starts every year in September and runs until December. Teams are drawn in groups of four and play each other twice; home and away. The best performing teams from previous years (i.e. the seeded teams) are drawn so that they cannot meet each other in the group stage. After these games have been completed, the top two teams qualify for the first of three knock out stages.
These rounds are played over two games, home and away and the team with the most goals overall qualifies for the next stage. The final is held in May and is decided over one game. If there is no winner after ninety minutes, then an extra period of 30 minutes and then if necessary a penalty shoot-out takes place to decide the winner.
There have been many great and exciting matches in the Champions League over the years, but the one that many recall from recent history is the 2005 Final between AC Milan and Liverpool. The game was held in Istanbul, Turkey and the Italians came into the game as favorites. This expectation seemed to hold true when at the half time stage Milan led by 3 goals. However, in an amazing eight minute period early in the second half, Liverpool scored three times, including a penalty to create an amazing recovery. In extra time there was further drama when Milan top striker, Andrei Shevchenko missed an easy opportunity to score the winner for Milan. Finally, after this drama, Liverpool won the Champions League in a penalty shoot out.
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