In world football, no other club competition quite matches up to the popularity and the pull of the UEFA Champions League (UCL).
The tournament features the best teams from Europe vying for the coveted trophy and the bragging rights to be called ‘Europe’s best’ each year.
While other continental federations like Asian Football Confederation, Confederation of African Football and South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) also run their own continental Champions League equivalents, the overwhelming popularity of European football around the world makes the UCL stand out.
Organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Europe’s governing body for football, the inaugural edition of the UCL, which was known as the European Cup until 1992, was held in 1955.
In the initial days, the UCL was a knockout tournament featuring the champions from different domestic leagues in Europe. In 1991, a round-robin stage or group stage was introduced and multiple teams from a country were allowed to play in the UCL from the 1997-98 season, thereby expanding the number of teams in the tournament.
As it stands, the main draw of the UEFA Champions League starts with 32 teams, divided into eight groups, playing in a double round-robin group stage. The top two from each group progress to the knockouts, which are played over two legs - except for the final.
Domestic champions and runner-ups from top European footballing countries participate in the UEFA Champions League. Stronger leagues like the ones from England, Spain and Germany get up to four slots in the main draw. UEFA is mulling to expand the number of teams to 48 to facilitate increased participation from all countries.
Spanish giants Real Madrid won the first edition of the UCL, then known as the European Cup, in 1955 and went on to retain the trophy in the next four editions – the longest win streak in the history of the competition.
Reigning champions Real Madrid have won the UEFA Champions League 14 times, making them the most successful team in the UCL. Italian club AC Milan are next with seven. German team Bayern Munich and England’s Liverpool have won the annual showpiece six times each.
Real’s domestic rivals Barcelona, meanwhile, have five wins to their name. Ajax (4), Manchester United (3), Inter Milan (3), Juventus (2), Benfica (2), Nottingham Forest (2), Porto (2) and Chelsea (2) are the other multi-time UCL champions.
Over the years, there have been 22 different UCL champions.