The UEFA Champions League is the most importantfootball competition in Europe, and acts as the European counterpart to South America's Copa Libertadoresnote Other football feds have their own versions, like the CONCACAF Champions League (formerly the Champions' Cup) for North and Central America. It's a championship between the most successful clubs of Europe which has been held yearly since 1955. Although the clubs disputing this title are all European, they have in their squads some of the best players from all parts of the world.The tournament has many stages: three knockout qualifying rounds and a play-off round, then a group stage, then the the final knockout phase. Not all teams have to pass through all those phases, though; the top teams from the top leagues don't have to pass through the qualifying rounds. The group stage consists of eight groups of four teams (32 clubs in total), each team playing the others in home and away matches with the two top advancing to the knockout phase. Knockout is mostly two-legged matches as well, the exception being the final, which is held at a pre-determined location; this has caused a few stirs over the years when two teams from the same nation have made the final, and relocating the venue there would make more sense.For those who get the chance to compete in it, it offers huge amounts of prize money and TV exposure and is the pinnacle of European club competitions. It showcases some of the finest football in the continent and generally some of the most epic games you could ask for. The competition has been dominated mostly by English, Italian and Spanish teams since its start, with Real Madrid having won it a record 10 times in their history (including the first 5 finals); however, clubs in France, Germany, Holland and numerous other teams have lifted the prestigious trophy at times.It ranks as one of the most popular sporting events in the world; the final of the competition is on par with the Super Bowl in that both events can draw in over 100 million spectators each year. It's easily one of the most important dates in a soccer fan's calendar.The winners (in order of first victory) are: Real Madrid (10), Benfica (Lisbon) (2), AC Milan (7), Internazionale (Milan) (3), Celtic (Glasgow) (1), Manchester United (3), Feyenoord (Rotterdam) (1), Ajax (Amsterdam) (4), Bayern Munich (5), Liverpool (5), Nottingham Forest (2), Aston Villa (Birmingham) (1), Hamburg SV (1), Juventus (Turin) (2), Steaua Bucharest (1), FC Porto (2), PSV Eindhoven (1), Red Star Belgrade (1), FC Barcelona (4), Olympique Marseille (1), Borussia Dortmund (1), Chelsea (London) (1).Subjective tropes about the Cup go here.It does have some tropes in it:
Always a Bigger Fish: Invoked in 2003-04 when José Mourinho said his Porto side could not be expected to swim with the sharks.
Goalkeepers have a habit of heading to the opposing goal if his team need to get a goal in the dying minutes of the final or knockout stages and they get a corner kick. And of course, bringing on substitutes for that same purpose.
This happened in the 1999 Final - Manchester United were a goal down to Bayern Munich as they headed into injury time. Teddy Sheringham & Ole Gunnar Solskjćr had both been brought on, and United got a corner kick, which lead to goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel coming forward. Sheringham wound up putting United level - this demoralised Bayern so much, that after the restart, United immediately regained the ball, and within a minute, had got another corner, which lead to Solskjćr scoring the winning goal.
Arsenal's Jens Lehmann was considered one of the best players of the 05/06 competition, pulling off several great saves and even one from a penalty to get Arsenal to the final, however he then got a controversial sending off in the final and Arsenal lost 2-1.
2002 final. César, who had been Real Madrid's starting keeper for most of the season, gets injured and is replaced by Iker Casillas, who along the season had been in a bad patch. In the last fifteen minutes, Bayer starts to bombard Madrid's goal with several shoots, several of them in the last few minutes on corner kicks, and Casillas stopped them all. Real Madrid ends up winning 2-1. There is a reason Iker is nicknamed "The Saint".
Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek's amazing double save to deny AC Milan's Andriy Shevchenko late into extra time in the 2005 final, redeeming him from the mistake he made in normal time that required underperforming Djimi Traoré to pull this trope off in his place to prevent Milan from regaining the lead. It was even voted the greatest Champions League moment of all time.
During the penalty shootout in the 2012 final, Manuel Neuer stepped forward to shoot the third penalty. Not only shooting, but even scoring. Didn't help Bayern that day, though.
In 2014, Real Madrid player Sergio Ramos invoked this by scoring a goal in the third-to-last minute of the final match against crosstown rival Atlético Madrid. Since Real were losing until that moment, the goal allowed them to keep playing through extra time, during which they scored three more goals to win.
Bittersweet Ending: Ethnic tensions rose before Red Star Belgrade won the 1991 UEFA Cup, and shortly afterwards the entire nation of Yugoslavia collapsed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of war casualties. Not only Red Star itself fell into #167 in UEFA Club Rankings, but the entire former Yugoslavia has never advanced into the knockout stages of the Champions League since 1995.
The FIFA Club World Cup. Prior to it, the Intercontinental Cup, with the champion of the Copa Libertadores.
The UEFA Super Cup, contested with the winners of the Europa League.
Boring Invincible Hero - Real Madrid won the first five European Cup trophies, and would go on to win four more. Justified in which, by the time, they had some of the world's best players signed: Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Raymond Kopa, among others.
Break the Haughty: This is why Bayern Munich lost the 1999 final - after scoring an early goal, Bayern led Manchester United 1-0 for the majority of the allotted 90 minutes, only for United to equalise in added time. Bayern were so shocked by this that United immediately scored the winning goal a minute later.
Cheaters Never Prosper - Constantly averted, but most spectacular in 1993 when Marseille won the European Cup, and were subsequently convicted of match fixing in a French League tie the previous week. Due to this, they lost the right to represent Europe in the 1993 Intercontinental Cup to the runners-up, AC Milan, but since the fixing scandal happened in Ligue 1, their CL win was eventually acknowledged.
Consolation Prize: Relegation to the UEFA Europa League for third-placed teams in the group stage.
In the 2011-12 season alone, we've had HJK Helsinki thrashing Bangor City 13-0 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, Real Madrid and Lyon thrashing Dinamo Zagreb, 6-2 and 7-1 respectively, Chelsea and Valencia thrashing Genk 5-0 and 7-0 respectively, Barcelona thrashing BATE Borisov 5-0 all in the group stages then in the knockout round, we've got Barcelona thrashing Bayer Leverkusen 10-2 on aggregate and Bayern Munich thrashing FC Basel 7-1 on aggregate in the knockout round.
In the 2012-13 Season we've had Bayern Munich, the eventual champion, trashing Barcelona 7-0 aggregate (Bayern winning 4-0 in the first leg and 3-0 on the second.) Even though Bayern were favorites due to their impressive season and Barcelona's poor fitness, nobody expected them to trash the Catalans the way they did.
Juventus and Barcelona both seemed cursed in the tournament until the 90s; Juve's one win up to 1996 had come on a day when 39 of their supporters died, Barça had never won the tournament until 1992 despite being one of Europe's top teams. With those curses dead, London clubs later became the most cursed, the drought ending with Chelsea's 2012 victory against Bayern Munich.
Real Madrid has two:
With a record of 9 CL, the club unfairly fired Vicente del Bosque, who won the last one as their coach, in 2002, where they also won a league title. That year they hit the quarterfinals with the same team and, since then, they spent 6 years without getting past the round of 16 despite having world class players. Plus, during that time, the team who beat them would always lose to the eventual Champion.
The team is said to suffer from the infamous "German curse", related to the numerous defeats the team often has when playing in Germany, resulting in the majority of the cases in their elimination. This was averted in 2014, where they defeated three clubs from that country in a row.note Schalke 04 in the round of 16, Borussia Dortmund in quarterfinals and Bayern Munich in semifinals; only losing to the second team in the away match. That year they also won their long-coveted 10th trophy.
Deus ex Machina - The away goals rule sends one team out without losing in many matches. At its most egregious in the 2003 semi-final when AC Milan defeated Inter on away goals. They share a stadium.
Deus Exit Machina - What if the big teams of Europe all collectively failed in the same year? You might get a final between teams as small as Nottingham Forest and Malmö. 1978-79 actually saw this happen.
Chelsea used to suffer from this until 2012, after defeating Bayern Munich in the final. Certain commentators have phrased that final as "Bayern Munich versus Didier Drogba, as this player scored the equalizing goal and the final penalty kick. In the following season, Chelsea fizzled out by becoming the first defending champion to fail to make it out of the next tournament's group stage and instead being relegated to the Europa League (which they ended up winning).
Arsenal always look very good in the group stage, and they've been in the Champions League every year since its inception. Due in part to bad luck at the draw and some poor play, however, they still stand without a trophy thus far, always being put out in the first couple of rounds of the knockout stage.
Fission Mailed: During the group stage, teams have to win matches to end at the top two of their groups and qualify to the knockout stage. But if the team finishes third, they will be moved to the knockout stage of the Europa League, so they can try winning in that competition instead.
Five-Token Band: Many clubs are like this, given that they hire the best players from all around the world. More prominently African footballers, be they naturalized or not. A notable example was the Inter Milan team who won in 2010. They had 3 Brazilians (Júlio César, Maicon, Lucio), 4 Argentinians (captain Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso, Diego Milito), a Romanian (Cristian Chivu), a Dutchman (Wesley Sneijder), a Macedonian (Goran Pandev) and a Cameroonian (Samuel Eto'o) in their starting line-up. The only Italian who actually played that match (Mario Balotelli, who was born to Ghanaian parents and adopted his current surname from his foster parents) entered the pitch at minute 90+2.
Football Hooligans: A terribly tragic example in the 1985 final when Liverpool supporters were responsible for the deaths of 39 people, mostly Juventus fans, after an incident at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. It turned out English hooliganism was a Not-So-Harmless Villain and the English clubs were thrown out for 5 years, which would eventually lead to English Football's redemption when this and the tragedy at Hillsborough forced several new regulations to be implemented. It's worked for the most part.
Game-Breaking Injury: Happens frequently in this competition, and it can become a major concern when other tournaments (such as the UEFA Euro and the World Cup) are on the horizon.
Honest John's Dealership: Rangers supporters in 2010 were held at the DW Stadium in Wigan prior to departing for Manchester to prevent a repeat of their violence in the city in the 2008 UEFA Cup final. So the Wigan club shop sold some Rangers shirts!
Irony: Real Madrid brought spent Ł200m on bringing in top stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká in to the club at the start of 2008-09. To make room in their squad, they sold Dutch starts Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to Internazionale and Bayern Munich respectively. Real failed to get past the last 16, whilst Inter and Bayern, largely inspired by Sneijder and Robben, were able to reach the final - in Madrid!
Kick the Dog: In 2000 the Spanish authorities could either have entered qualified 4th placed Real Zaragoza or European Champions Real Madrid. They denied Real Zaragoza the Champions League money, and Zaragoza have not nearly hit those heights again since then.
Liverpool coming from 3-0 down to win on penalties against AC Milan in 2005.
Achieved twice by Chelsea in the road to their 2012 Championship. In the second round, they overturned a 3-1 first leg deficit against Napoli, beating them 4-1 in extra time. Then, against Barcelona in the semifinals, they overturned a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 and win 3-2 on aggregate. Whilst down to ten men for most of the match.
Moment Killer: Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves infamously telling Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic that a yellow card ruled him out of the final in 2012.
New and Improved: In 1992 the "European Cup" became the "UEFA Champions League". By 1998 they'd let non-champions in.
Nominal Importance: The teams in the qualifiers include the Champions of countries like San Marino, Andorra and the Faroe Islands. It seems like the UEFA just wants to get rid of them before the real competition starts.
Non-Indicative Name: The Champions League is neither a league nor is it for champions only anymore.
No Sense of Direction: John Arne Riise's tie-swinging own goal in the 2008 semi-final against Chelsea counts as this.
Opposing Sports Team: Inter Milan in 1967 served as the bad guy to Celtic's good guy, even down to the black (and blue) kit. To go in depth, the Inter Milan of this era were using their infamous Catenaccio tactic (literally meaning "door-bolt" in Italian), in which they'd score one goal and lock up shop. Celtic are more known for their more attacking football. The most prominent statistic is Celtic's 42 shots compared to Inter's 5. It was seen as a victory for football, and it was a huge achievement for Celtic.
Product Displacement: Stadiums with naming rights held by non-sponsors always get generic names (i.e. Emirates Stadium becomes "Arsenal Stadium"). Do the broadcasters do this? No.
Put Me In, Coach!: Ole Gunnar Solskjćr and Teddy Sheringham in 1999 for Manchester United.
The tragic tale of Bayer Leverkusen in 2001/02. A team that had never won their national league before up against seven-time champions Real Madrid. The saddest part was that Leverkusen were on course for a treble, due to also being in both the German Cup final and leading the Bundesliga by five points with three games to go. But after Leverkusen lost the Champions League final 2-1 to Real Madrid, the German Cup final 4-2 to Schalke, and even the league to Borussia Dortmund after losing two of their last three games and blowing their five point lead, the team was crucified in the media. The team then lost star players Michael Ballack and Zé Roberto to Bayern Munich, and never recovered.
Leeds United. Their chairman took out huge loans, which were supposed to be repaid with Champions League revenue money. However, Leeds lost to Valencia in the 2001 semi-final, and lost 4th place in the Premier League to Newcastle United. The result was that all of their best players had to be sold to repay the loans, leading to the manager resigning and the club barely avoiding relegation in 2002. Now, the club languishes in the Championship, nowhere near the glory days of the early millennium. At least Leverkusen still remain in the Bundesliga (barely avoided relegation in 2003, and directly qualified to the Champions League in 2013).
Fernando Morientes in 2003-04 playing for AS Monaco against Real Madrid, while on loan from Real scoring the goals that knocked out the Spanish team. Most teams insist that their own players do not play against them.
This happened again in 2013-14 with goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, on loan at Atlético Madrid from Chelsea. When Atlético unexpectedly got to the semi-finals - against Chelsea - Chelsea tried to insist that if Courtois played against them Atlético would have to pay an exorbitant fee, so FIFA stepped in and ruled Courtois could play. He did, and Atletico won.
The Trickster: Give it up for the master of modesty José Mourinho. When he was Chelsea manager he sneaked into his team's dressing room during half-time of a match he was banned from by hiding in the laundry basket. At Real Madrid, he orchestrated two of his players to be sent off so their bans would fall on a dead-rubber, clearing their record for the important games.
Atlético Madrid was aiming at this in 2014, after defeating teams like Porto, Milan and Barcelona on the way. In the final match, their opponent was Real Madrid, and they were winning 1-0 up by the 92nd minute. Then Real scored their first goal and brought in an extra time, during which they started playing more aggressively. After the subsequent 30 minutes, Atlético ended up losing 1-4, subverting the trope.
Played straight for Liverpool for the entire 2004-05 campaign (where for all their history, they were regarded as underdogs then having been in a period of decline). Chelsea took it even further in the 2011-12 campaign; they had nowhere as illustrious a history in European competitions as Liverpool had, and their team then is regarded as one of the weakest in recent years to win.
Unexpected Character: You can be surprised of the teams (and countries) who make it to the group stage and clash with the titans.
Man Utd in 1999, scoring the equalizer and winner in stoppage time.
Borussia Dortmund did likewise in their 2nd quarter-final match against Málaga in 2013.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: FC Nordsjćlland from Denmark. FC Nordsjćlland is by quite a distance the club in the 2012/13 Champions League with the lowest budget, and an almost hilariously low internal salary cap (€13,330 per month) compared to other clubs. What exactly makes them wide-eyed idealists? They still try to play the same kind of football as FC Barcelona, despite the fact that they have the by a huge margin smallest budget in the tournament and no players with any experience from this level of football whatsoever note No player in the squad had ever played in the tournament. Nordstrand had been an unused sub for Copenhagen and Lorentzen had played in the qualification for Brřndby. Aside from their impressive 1-1 against Juventus, they've been beaten in every game, which is mostly because they weren't good enough at both ends.