A Guide To The Champions League

The Champions League started life as the European Cup in 1955 and is considered as the most prestigious club level trophy in the world. In 1992 it was restructured and renamed to the current Champions League.

History of the European Cup 

The European Cup started off as a straight knockout competition. Whilst eventually it became a competition solely for each national league champion, the early years of the European Cup was contested more by teams that were willing to travel. The first competition was contested by the following sixteen teams: Milan, AGF Aarhus, Anderlecht, Djurgaden, Gwardia Warszawa, Hiberian, Partizan, PSV Eindhoven, Rapid Wien, Real Madrid, Rott-Weiss Essen, Saarbrucken, Servette, Sporting CP, Stade de Reims and Voros Lobogo. The inaugural competition was won by Real Madrid who beat Stade de Reims in the final. 

 The competition grew as the years progressed although it was Real Madrid who dominated early proceedings, collecting the first five trophies. It was league rivals Barcelona who ended their reign in the 1960-61 season by knocking them out in the first round. They made it to the final before they were beating by Benfica. Benfica won it again the following year before AC Milan, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Celtic and Manchester United all became kings of Europe at least once. 

 Dutch teams claimed the first four Europeans cups in the 1970’s with Feyenoord claiming their first and only title in 1970 and the Johan Cruyff inspired Ajax team claiming the next three by playing their brand of “Total Football”. Another period of dominance began with Bayern Munich claiming the next three, Gerd Muller playing a vital role.  

 Between 1977-1985 English teams began to dominate, Liverpool winning a staggering four European Cups. Nottingham Forest made an astonishing rise to the pinnacle of European football by winning it in 1979 before retaining it a year later. Aston Villa and Hamburg also won it during this period.  

 1985 was a tragic final. Juventus beat Liverpool 1-0 but it was totally overshadowed by an incident which resulted in the death of 39 football fans, mostly from Juventus. This resulted in a five year ban on English Clubs in European competition and a six year ban on Liverpool.  

 The next three years saw three new names on the trophy. Steaua Bucuresti, Porto and PSV Eindhoven all victorious. Steaua Bucuresti were the first  Eastern European team to lift the trophy after their goalkeeper saved four penalties in their penalty shoot out with Barcelona.  

 1989 saw Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan win their first European Cup for 20 years and they retained it the following year. Red Star Belgrade then won the competition in 1991 before Barcelona won their first title in 1992. For the first time there was a group stage at the quarter final stage of the competition. This was the final European Cup before the inception of the Champions League. Arsenal competed in the last European Cup and were the first English team to compete after the ban. 

History of the Champions League 

The 1992-93 season was the first season as the Champions League and coincided with the first English Premier League. This resulted in major changes which included marketing and TV Rights. The competition format was at this point the same as the previous European Cup, a knockout phase followed by a Quarter Final group stage. Marseille became the first and only French team to win the European Cup or Champions League. Unfortunately they were unable to defend their crown as they were banned for financial irregularities. 

Milan, Ajax and Juventus added to their haul of victories over the next three years before Dortmund won their first and only title when they shocked Juventus in 1997. By this point the format of the competition had changed by this point with their being four groups of four before the quarter final stage.  

1998 was the first year that they allowed runners up into the competition as FIFA wanted to expand the competition. Real Madrid were the winners and claimed their first trophy since 1966. 

Manchester United became the first English team to lift the trophy since their European ban and their first victory since 1968 after an astonishing comeback against Bayern Munich. They were 1 down with only minutes left before two late goals turned the game on its head. 

Since the millenium the following sides have won the competition: 

  • 2000 Real Madrid 
  • 2001 Bayern Munich 
  • 2002 Real Madrid 
  • 2003 Milan 
  • 2004 Porto 
  • 2005 Liverpool 
  • 2006 Barcelona 
  • 2007 Milan 
  • 2008 Manchester United 
  • 2009 Barcelona 
  • 2010 Internazionale 
  • 2011 Barcelona 
  • 2012 Chelsea 
  • 2013 Bayern Munich 
  • 2014 Real Madrid 
  • 2015 Barcelona 
  • 2016,17,18 Real Madrid 
  • 2019 Liverpool 

Real Madrid’s victories between 2016-2018 made them the first team to retain the trophy since it became the Champions League 

Champions League qualification

The structure of the Champions League has changed many times, but currently there two or three different rounds depending on where the team finishes in their domestic league. The rounds consist of

Depending on the strength of a countries domestic league, they will have 1 to 4 positions available for Champions League entry. Usually the last available place in not automatic qualification and the team has to enter a qualifying round. The stage in which a team enters the qualifying round is again determined how strong their domestic league is, and there can be up to 4 rounds.

Champions League Tournament Structure

After the extra qualifying round the teams that qualify are added to the automatically qualifying teams and drawn into 8 group stages consisting of 32 teams. In the group stage each team plays each other home and away and the top 2 in each group progress to the last 16 knockout stage. The team that ends up 3rd in their group is dropped into the Europa League.

In the last 16, the runner up of one group will be paired with the winner of another group. Each match in the knockout stage is also two-legged, being played at home and away, with exception of the final which is a single match played at a neutral venue. Before the final the last 16 progress to the quarter-finals (last 8), and semi-finals (last 4), before the remaining two teams meet for the final at the end of May.

Champions League/European Cup Records 

Record Wins – Real Madrid (13) 

Most Final Appearances Without A Victory – Athletico Madrid (3) 

Top 3 Countries By Victory – Spain (18) 

                                                      England (13) 

                                                      Italy (12) 

Biggest Victory: Dinamo Bucuresti beat Crusaders 1–0 in 1973-74 

All Time Appearances – Iker Casillas (177) 

All Time Goalscorer – Cristiano Ronaldo (162) 

Most Goals In A Single Season – Cristiano Ronaldo (17) 

Most Coach Appearances – Alex Ferguson (190) 

Champions League Betting

If you would like to place some champions league bets, you can find a full list of free bets here. Betting on the Champions League is very popular and it attracts bettors from all over the world, not just from Europe. Over the last few years, English teams have been dominant throughout the tournament and a lot of people have bet on these teams to do well. Bets on the Champions League group stages can be popular as there can often be some upsets in the games that take place early on in the tournament. However, once the tournament reaches the knockout stages there is usually an increase in bets as the tournament progresses and the matches get more important.

Popular Champions League Bets

  • Overall winner
  • Golden boot
  • To reach the final
  • To qualify from their group