The UEFA Champion’s League is the world’s biggest club soccer competition. It takes place every year and features the best soccer clubs from all over Europe. It begins with qualifying rounds in July before progressing until two teams are left to contest the final in May of the following year. The 2009 final beat the NFL’s Super Bowl for the title of world’s most-watched sporting event drawing an audience of 109 million people.
To qualify for the Champion’s League, a team must finish in the upper reaches of their own domestic league. Some leagues receive more qualification places than others with Europe’s strongest leagues allocated more places than the weaker competitions. The three strongest leagues, as rated by UEFA, receive four places in the Champions League. These are the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and La Liga in Spain. Weaker domestic leagues may receive three, two or even just one place. The winner from the previous year qualifies regardless of league position.
The main competition features 32 teams split into eight groups of four. 21 teams from the strongest leagues in Europe plus the defending champion team qualify directly for the group stages. The remaining 10 teams are decided on the outcome of four qualifying rounds each decided over two matches, one home and one away. Leagues ranked 1-3 by UEFA send three teams straight into the main competition and one to the qualifiers. Leagues ranked 4-6 have two automatic qualifiers and those ranked 7-13 have one. All other teams play in the qualifiers.
For domestic league champions the path to the main draw is slightly easier. The first qualifying round is contested by Champions of the leagues ranked 50-53 by UEFA. The winners go through to meet the champions of the leagues ranked 17-49 who enter at the second qualifying round. At the third qualifying round the Champions from leagues ranked 14-16 join before the fourth qualifying round decides who progresses to the final competition. Non-champions from domestic leagues join the competition in a similar way with those from the strongest leagues receiving byes to the later qualifying rounds. Champions and non-champions cannot meet in qualifying.
In addition to the qualifying rounds, teams must meet some specific squad requirements to play in the competition. Teams must have four players who spent three years training in the country the club is based between the ages of 15-21. They must also have four players who trained for three years at that club between the ages of 15-21. Over the next three years teams will have to meet stringent rules regarding their finances and debt to be granted entry to the competition. These rules are designed to prevent clubs living off debt and spending more than they earn.