Starting in June of each year, Europe’s elite clubs begin their journey to the top in one of the most prestigious sports competitions worldwide: The UEFA Champions League!
This year marks the 67th season of the tournament and the 30th season since it was renamed from the original “European Champion Clubs’ Cup”. We’ll be outlining some of the league’s most relevant features, as well as a brief snippet of the competition’s illustrious history.
2021/22 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TEAMS
The current iteration of the competition comprises 32 teams, consisting of 26 clubs which automatic qualified through league position and six play-off victors.
The automatic qualifiers for this 2021/22 season were:
- Ajax (Netherlands)
- Atalanta (Italy)
- Atletico Madrid (Spain)
- Barcelona (Spain)
- Bayern Munich (Germany)
- Besiktas (Turkey)
- Chelsea (England, titleholders)
- Club Brugge (Belgium)
- Dortmund (Germany)
- Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)
- Inter Milan (Italy)
- Juventus (Italy)
- Leipzig (Germany)
- Lille OSC (France)
- Liverpool (England)
- Manchester City (England)
- Manchester United (England)
- Milan (Italy)
- Paris Saint-Germain (France)
- Porto (Portugal)
- Real Madrid (Spain)
- Sevilla F.C (Spain)
- Sporting CP (Portugal)
- Villarreal (Spain, UEFA Europa League champions)
- Wolfsburg (Germany)
- Zenit (Russia)
With regards to the remaining six teams that will take part in the competition, two of them qualified through the League Path (which includes non-champions that don’t make it for the group stage) and the four other clubs through the Champions Path (champions that also have to go through a preliminary round).
Here is the list of the teams that made it to the group stage from the prefatory play-off round:
WINNERS OF THE LEAGUE PATH:
- Benfica (Portugal)
- Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
WINNERS OF THE CHAMPIONS PATH:
- Malmo FF (Sweden)
- Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)
- Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova – debut)
- Young Boys (Switzerland)
FIXTURES & DATES
For this 2021/22 season, the provisional fixtures are scheduled as follows (these dates are subject to change by UEFA):
8th of June: Preliminary round draw
15th of June: 1st qualifying round draw
16th of June: 2nd qualifying round draw
22nd of June: Semi-finals, preliminary round
25th of June: Final, preliminary round
6th/7th of July: 1st qualifying round, first legs
13th/14th of July: 1st qualifying round, second legs
19th of July: 3rd qualifying round draw
20th/21st of July: 2nd qualifying round, first legs
27th/28th of July: 2nd qualifying round, second legs
2nd of August: Play-off round draw
3rd/4th of August: 3rd qualifying round, first legs
10th of August: 3rd qualifying round, second legs
17th/18th of August: Play-offs, first legs
24th/25th of August: Play-offs, second legs
26th of August: Group stage draw
September marks the beginning of the Group Stage and the “Champions League proper”:
14th/15th of September: Group stage, Matchday 1
28th/29th September: Group stage, Matchday 2
19th/20th of October: Group stage, Matchday 3
2nd/3rd of November: Group stage, Matchday 4
23rd/24th of November: Group stage, Matchday 5
7th/8th of December: Group stage, Matchday 6
13th of December: Round of 16 draw
15th/16th/22nd/23rd of February: Round of 16, first legs
8th/9th/15th/16th of March: Round of 16, second legs
18th of March: Quarter-final and Semi-final draw
5th/6th of April: Quarter-finals, first legs
12th/13th of April: Quarter-finals, second legs
26th/27th of April: Semi-finals, first legs
3rd/4th of May: Semi-finals, second legs
28th of May: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
- The Stadium chosen for this season’s final match is the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COMPETITION
The tournament was first introduced in 1955 by French journalist Gabriel Hanot, known as the Coupe des Clubs Champions Europe (in English: European Champion Clubs’ Cup). However, it wasn’t the first time that champions from different European leagues met. Under the misleading title of “World Championship”, on the 27th of April 1895, English champion Sunderland met Scottish winner Heart of Midlothian in a fierce match at Tynecastle Park, in Edinburgh, in which the away team won 5-3. It was the first in a series of initiatives aimed at establishing pan-European competitions.
The Challenge Cup was an attempt at gathering champions from different leagues across the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1897. Then came the Mitropa Cup (1927), the Nations Cup (1930), and, finally, the Latin Cup (1949) comprised of Latin European countries.
By 1948, the Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones (in English: South American Championship of Champions) served as a blueprint for what would become a continent-wide European competition by 1955, and that is known since 1992 as the UEFA Champions League. It was originally a purely knockout tournament composed of 16 teams, and only the champions of European domestic leagues could participate (to complete the 16 slots, usually some non-champions would be invited).
In 1991 a round-robin group stage was added and some of the “strongest” leagues were allowed to allocate up to four teams, thus, the first-round slots increased from 16 to 32. All of these structural changes were made due to geopolitical developments brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Since then, the league has been subject to minor alterations in its qualification process.
The famous anthem that still brings chills down the spines of many fans was composed and arranged by Tony Britten in 1992 and recorded by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in collaboration with the choir of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. To this day, this anthem has become as emblematic as the trophy itself, adding to the prestige and, in the words of football hero Zinedine Zidane, “magic” of the competition.
Currently, the top UEFA Champions League scorer is Cristiano Ronaldo with a whopping 134 goals netted in competition matches, while Real Madrid is currently the most successful team, with 13 trophies to boast, being also the first-ever team to win a Champions League title in 1956.
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*Odds subject to change. Odds correct at time of publishing.