As in the United Kingdom, football in the rest of Europe is organised along similar lines, though few countries outside England have as large a league structure, most having only two professional leagues before splitting into regional and amateur leagues. European Football is organized, administered and regulated by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
, which is a union of the governing football associations of each European country
, and is directly under FIFA as one of its member continental federations.
Europe's top national football teams are Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Portugal, Italy and France, and they tend to be consistently among the favourites for both European and Worldwide tournaments. They also tend to usually win them (particularly Germany, Italy and more recently Spain), though exceptions can happen, such as Greece's shock victory in the 2004 European Championships.
The top-ranked leagues are the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the German Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, the French Ligue 1, Portuguese Liga, Russian Premier League, Ukrainian Premier League, Dutch Eredivisie, Romanian Liga I and the Turkish Süper Lig.
The major European football tournaments are:
- The European Championship: a quadrennial competition for all European national teams. Germany and Spain have won it 3 times, France twice, and once each for Greece, Denmark, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Italy and the USSR. Spain are the reigning champions.
- The UEFA Champions League: a competition for the top European clubs; which is neither a league, nor is it (since 1997) for national champions only. The tournament runs from August to May. Real Madrid have 10 wins; AC Milan 7; Liverpool and Bayern Munich 5 each; FC Barcelona and Ajax 4 each. The current champions are Real Madrid.
- The UEFA Europa League: a secondary competition for those European clubs not quite good enough for the Champions League; it was formerly called the UEFA Cup. Juventus, Internazionale and Liverpool have the most wins, three each. The current champions are Sevilla.
There are equivalent competitions in women's football, including
- the UEFA Women's Championship: A quadrennial championship for national teams first held in 1984. So far it has been won eight times by (West) Germany, twice by Norway, and once by Sweden. Germany have won the last six titles.
- the UEFA Women's Champions League: The women's equivalent to the (men's) Champions League. Began as the UEFA Women's Cup in the 2001–02 season, and renamed as the Women's Champions League starting in 2009–10. Originally, the competition was solely for the winners of each country's top women's competition; since the reorganization as the Champions League, the runners-up of the top eight nations in women's football have also competed. Like the men's Champions League, the women's version runs from August to May, and the women's final is held in the same city as the men's final (but in a smaller stadium). Frankfurt have 3 wins, with Lyon, Turbine Potsdam, Umeå, and Wolfsburg winning twice each. Wolfsburg have won the last two titles.
53 domestic leagues send teams to the (men's) Champions League and Europa League. The better a league is, the more teams qualify and the later in the competition they enter. Both competitions are divided into three phases:
- Qualification: Three qualification rounds, then a playoff round. Each round is home/away with the aggregate score of the two legs deciding who qualifies. In case of a tie, the away goals rule is implemented. If it is still a tie, it will proceed to the standard extra time game and penalty shootout.
- Group Phase: Groups of 4 teams play double round robin. A win counts 3 points, a draw 1.
- Champions League: 8 groups, 32 teams: title holder, top 12 champions, top 6 runners-up, top 3 thirds, 10 playoff round winners (5 champions, 5 others).
- Europa League: 12 groups, 48 teams: 10 Champions League playoff losers, 38 Europa League playoff winners and/or winners or finalists of their respective nations' Cups.
- Knockout Phase: Each round is home/away again, with the aggregate (total) goals scored as the basis for elimination. In the first round group winners are drawn against runners-up.
- The 8 third-placed teams of the Champions League groups are added to the Europa League, with the better ones counted as winners, the others as runners-up. After this, the competitions are fully separate.
- Teams from the same league cannot be drawn against each other until the quarter-finals.
- Final: One game which is held on a predetermined location. This is to maintain a neutral atmosphere for the two teams. Seating is guaranteed equally for the fans of the two competing clubs in case that the club owning the stadium reaches the final.
The Women's Champions League has a somewhat different format from the men's tournament. The number of teams has varied from year to year; UEFA maintains a table
determining the size of the qualifying round based on the total number of entrants.
- Qualifying round: Consists of four-team groups. Each team plays a single round-robin within its group over a six-day period, with one of the participating teams (determined by seeding) hosting all matches. The winner of each group advance to the knockout phase; depending on the number of teams entered, one or more of the top group runners-up may also advance.
- Knockout Phase: All survivors of the Qualifying Round are joined by a sufficient number of teams from higher-ranked leagues to form a 32-team bracket. All matches from this point on, except the final, are two-legged home/away ties.
- Teams from the same league, or the same qualifying group, cannot be drawn against one another until the round of 16.
- Final: One game which is held at a predetermined location, under the same conditions as noted above for the men's final.
Some major European footballing nations in detail:
play in red shirt, white shorts and green socks and have been a frustrating side to support: brilliant at times and with some hugely talented players but never ''quite'' able to parlay this into a trophy win
. The closest they got to this was when they hosted Euro 2004, but surprisingly enough, they lost to Greece in the final.
Portuguese domestic football is dominated by three clubs: Benfica and Sporting, both from Lisbon, and FC Porto. Between them they have won the league 78 times out of 80: the other two wins were one-shot victories for Belenenses (Lisbon) and Boavista (Porto). Benfica and FC Porto have also won Europe's top club honour, the Champions' League (formerly the European Cup), most recently Porto in 2003/04.
play in red shirt with yellow accents, blue shorts and black socks and, like Portugal, have often promised much and delivered little in the way of silverware. Unlike Portugal, however, the Spanish team (affectionately dubbed La Furia
, "The Fury", or La Roja
after the red jerseys) have won the European Championship three times: once in 1964 and two consecutive titles in 2008 and 2012. The 2008 winning team also went on to record Spain's first World Cup win at the 2010 edition held in South Africa, and their hegemony was confirmed again at the Poland-Ukraine Euro 2012. They entered the 2014 World Cup as the reigning European and World champions, and were generally considered to be the best national side in the world—but their World Cup campaign went disastrously wrong, with La Roja
assured of exiting in the group stage after their first two matches. Nonetheless, Spain is the first European champion to successfully defend the crown and the first national team in the world to win three back-to-back major international titles since Italy in 1934-36-38.
The two giants of Spanish club football are Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the rivalry between whom is intensified by politics: Barcelona is capital of Catalonia, a proudly different region of Spain with its own language and customs, both of which were repressed during the Franco years. Real ("Royal") Madrid, on the other hand, were Franco's "pet" team and ambassadors for the regime... Both teams have won many European honours, though Real Madrid have the edge with a record ten
European Cup/Champions' League wins, five of them in a row in the late 1950s. Other teams include Atlético de Madrid (third force of the country, 1974 and 2014 European runner-up) and Valencia CF (runner-up of the 2000 and 2001 Champions Leagues).
play in blue shirt, white shorts and red socks and have won the FIFA World Cup
once, as hosts, in 1998 and also won the European Championship in 1984 and 2000. Since the 1990s a significant proportion of the national team has been black or Arab-descended, a fact credited with increasing multicultural awareness in the nation as a whole. Other nation's fans have suggested uncharitably (but not necessarily inaccurately) that the French national team cherry picks the best players from its former colonies and greases their path to French citizenship.
French club football has a wide range of strong teams, with a large number of clubs having historically won domestic honours - though Olympique Lyonnais monopolised the title from 2001/02 to 2007/08, with FC Girondins de Bordeaux breaking the streak in the following season. However, French clubs have rarely challenged seriously internationally, with Marseille's 1993 Champions League win the only occasion on which a French club has won the top European honour. Other well-known clubs include Saint-Étienne (the country's most successful team with 10 victories, and runners-up of the 1976 European Cup), Nancy-Lorraine, Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco (which came closest to repeating Marseille's feat, losing the 2004 Champions League final to FC Porto). Also, there is Stade de Reims, who supplied many players for the French team of the 1950s and was twice runner-up of the European Cup, in 1956 and 1959, losing both to Real Madrid, and now is playing at the second national league.
In women's football, Lyon's women's section has won the Women's Champions League twice.
play in all whites (though traditionally with navy shorts) and have won the FIFA World Cup
once, as hosts, in 1966 in their famous alternate red kit, and have also reached the semis of the European Championship in 1968 and 1996 (the latter at home).
English club football also has many strong contenders, namely Arsenal and Chelsea (both from London), Manchester United (the first English team to win a European title, in 1968, and having won a record 20 league championships) and Liverpool (who formerly held the record for most titles at 18 and have won the European championship 5 times). Other successful teams include Nottingham Forest (European champions twice, in 1978 and 1979, and currently at the second national championship level), Aston Villa (from Birmingham, won the 1982 European Cup) and Leeds United (runners-up of the 1975 European Cup, currently in the second tier of English football). At a direct counterpoint to the national team's lack success - and, more usually, abject failure - the domestic league is considered by most to be the best league in the world.
In the women's game, Arsenal (a separate club affiliated with the men's club) have one Women's Champions League title.
play in orange shirt and socks and white shorts and are one of the best countries never to have won the FIFA World Cup
- they made it to the final in 1974, 1978, and 2010, losing to the hosts in '74 and '78 (West Germany and Argentina respectively) and to Spain in 2010. In fact only have the 1988 European Championship to show for decades of high-quality football. Co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with Belgium.
The Dutch league is dominated by three sides - Ajax of Amsterdam (pronounced eye-yaks, not ay-jacks), PSV of Eindhoven and Feyenoord of Rotterdam. Ajax in particular have also been one of the strongest teams in Europe on occasion, particularly in the early 1970s when they won three European Cups on the trot. However, Feyenoord was the last Dutch side that won an European trophy: the UEFA-cup in 2002.
play in blue shirt and socks and white shorts and are (as of 2014 together with Germany) the most successful European team in the World Cup
, their 2006 triumph being their fourth - although their 1934 win on home soil remains controversial, thanks to Mussolini's attempts to influence referees.
Italian sides have also been very strong in Europe, and there are several different teams that have won major honours at home and internationally: AC Milan
(also of Milan), Juventus
of Turin, AS Roma and Lazio
from the capital, Fiorentina
of Florence and Napoli
. Italian football was hit hard by a match-fixing scandal in 2005 which saw most of the big teams forcibly relegated to the lower divisions and/or being stripped of any titles won that year (namely Juventus - which paved the way for Internazionale to regain domination of Italian football, as they haven't had been national champions for 16 years by then), but the World Cup
win the following year marked a comeback.
play in white shirt (sometimes with highlights in the flag's black/red/gold colors) and socks and black shorts, and the current national team is regarded as the continuation of the old West German team which won three World Cups
(in 1954, 1974 and 1990). In 2014 they won their fourth overall World Cup title and the first as a unified nation. If Italy is the most successful World cup team in terms of victories, Germany beats them statistically by a longshot, thanks to their consistency
: out of their 18 appearances, they reached the final 8 times, and were semifinalists 6 other times. Germany have a reputation for being a tough team to beat, even when they're having an off-day, and are a particular bogey team for England. Have a strong rivalry with the Dutch based
partly on World War II history and partly
on the German win over the Dutch in 1974. Their own bogey team is Italy, with Germany never having won a competetive match against the Italian side.
German club football is dominated by Bayern Munich, though there are plenty of other strong teams out there such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger
SV, VfB Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen
, Schalke 04
(from Gelsenkirchen, near the Dutch border), Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg. West Germany had no national league until 1963, a legacy of German soccer being organized in regional federations that went back to Imperial Germany. Bayern Munich won three European Cups in the mid-1970s, one in 2001, and the Champions League in 2013, and Dortmund and Hamburg have each won the top European title once, but other than that German clubs have been relatively lacklustre in that competition (the best performances by any other teams were runner-ups by Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1977 against Liverpool, Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 against Real Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund in 2013 against Bayern). Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern München, and FC Schalke 04 have won the now-defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup and/or the UEFA Cup. 1. FC Magdeburg is the only club of the former GDR league to have won a European competition, the Cup Winners' Cup in 1974, the annus mirabilis of East German football.
The German women's national team won the World Cup twice, in 2003 and 2007, and the European championship eight times (including the last six in a row). The country has also been highly successful at the women's club level, winning the Women's Champions League eight times (three times by Frankfurt, twice each by Turbine Potsdam and Wolfsburg, and once by Duisburg).
Other countries in Euro Footy include, but are not limited to:
- Austria: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Was known as the Wunderteam (Wonder Team) in the 1930s, before Nazi annexation crippled the team from its foundations. Along with Switzerland, was one of the joint hosts of the 2008 European Championship. Main clubs: Rapid Wien (from Vienna, most nationally successful team, with 32 league trophies), Austria Wien (trailing behind their rivals Rapid, with 23 wins) and Red Bull Salzburg (current two-time champions).
- Belgium play in red shirt, black shorts and yellow socks and, despite never really challenging for honours, have usually produced a much better team than you might expect of a small nation deeply divided along linguistic grounds. Co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with the Netherlands. Belgian club football is dominated by Anderlecht of Brussels and Club Brugge of Bruges, though the current champions are Standard Liège (French-speaking). Club Brugge did make it to the European Cup final in 1978, the furthest a Belgian team has gone in that competition.
- Bulgaria: white shirt and socks and green shorts. While not much of a contender, they managed to assemble a spectacular team which reached the 1994 World Cup semifinals, spearheaded by Hristo Stoichkov, one of the best Eastern European footballers of all time. Main clubs: CSKA Sofia (31 league victories, and revealed Stoichkov) and Levski Sofia (CSKA's main rivals, with five league trophies behind them).
- Bosnia: White shirt with blue stripes on the right sleeve and torso, blue shorts, white socks. Bosnia and Herzegovina entered international football amidst the desolation of the Bosnian War. The country lay in ruins and many young players were killed or wounded during the war- or simply elected to play for other sides (whether due to ethnic intolerance or simply to earn money.) Needless to say, it was an unsurprisingly weak team. Things began to change rapidly for the better after enough time passed for new players to grow up and train without war surrounding them, like Hasan Salihamidžić (formerly from Bayern Munich) and Manchester City's Edin Džeko. Still: corruption, underfunding and management-team conflicts are endemic to Bosnian national football. Since the mid-00s Bosnia has gained a reputation as a confusing team to play against- keeping up with giants such as Spain, Portugal, France and Germany during away games on one day and getting absolutely smashed the next. Due to this inconsistency Bosnia had yet to qualify for a major tournament despite being ranked 21st out of 208 teams in the world rankings. Things are looking up for them, however, as they directly qualified for the 2014 World Cup by winning a qualifying group that also included Greece and Slovakia.
- Croatia: white-and-red checkered shirt, white shorts and blue socks. Arguably the most successful of the national teams created after the breakup of Yugoslavia, if the third place in 1998 is any indication. Main teams: Dinamo Zagreb (which holds 12 Croatian league wins) and Hajduk Split (which carried the tradition of one of the main teams in Yugoslavia over to Croatia).
- Czech Republic: red shirt, white shorts and blue socks. Saw its better days while under the Czechoslovakia flag (by which they were runners-up in the 1934 and 1962 World Cups, and won the 1976 European Championship and the 1980 Olympic gold medal), but on their own right are not a bad team, as the second place in Euro '96 can attest. Main teams: Sparta Praha (most victorious in the country, with 11 leagues under their belts) and Slavia Praha, both from Prague.
- Denmark: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Won the Euro '92 after replacing the war-torn Yugoslavia in the nick of time. Main clubs: FC Copenhagen (greatest champions of the modern Danish league, with eight victories) and Brøndby (which won ten national championships, and in which Michael Laudrup & Peter Schmeichel gained projection).
- Greece: all-white uniform with blue highlights. Shocked the world by winning the 2004 European Championship over hosts and then-favorites Portugal. But still, they are on an average level at best. Main teams: Olympiacos (from Piraeus, the dominant team in Greek football, with 41 league trophies) and Panathinaikos (from Athens, which reached the 1971 European Cup final, losing it to Johan Cruyff's Ajax).
- Hungary: red shirt, white shorts and green socks. Now they pose not much of a threat, but back in the 1950s the "Mighty Magyars" were a fearful force to be reckoned with, having in their ranks legends like Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis. Everything came crashing down with the loss at the 1954 World Cup final and the suppression of the 1956 rebellion, and now their legacy consists of three Olympic gold medals (1952, 1964 and 1968) and another World Cup second place (in 1938). Main clubs: Ferencvaros (28 national league victories, and just recovering from a second-flight spell) and Kispest Honved (whose 1950s team was practically synonymous with the Magical Magyars).
- Ireland: green shirt and socks and white shorts. Perhaps the least football mad nation in Europe, at least when it comes to local clubs, with attendance figures for League of Ireland matches being far below those for Gaelic Football and Hurling (though it must be said the British clubs have a lot of fans and when the national team is playing interest increases dramatically.) While its clubs are not continental-level contenders, the national team has achieved some degree of success, qualifying to three World Cups and overcoming first stage in all three.
- Norway: red shirt, white shorts and navy socks. Not so hot in men's football, but their women's national team became World Champions in 1995 and also won two European Championships. Its main club is Trondheim side Rosenborg, who won the league 21 times - 13 of them in a row (1992 to 2004).
- Poland: white shirt and socks and red shorts. Gold medallist in 1972, and third place in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups. Main clubs: Wisla Krakow (with seven national titles in the last twelve seasons), Legia Warszawa and Lech Poznań (last won the league in 2010, but still the only Polish club in the top 100 of the UEFA rankings thanks to some impressive European performances). Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Ukraine.
- Romania: plays in all yellows. Like Bulgaria, they left quite a mark in world football in the 1990s, thanks to their ace Gheorghe Hagi. Main teams: Steaua Bucharest (1986 European winners, and runners-up in 1989 - in both occasions helmed by Hagi too - and greatest national winners with 23 leagues) and CFR Cluj (an uprising team which won two of the three latest league championships).
- Russia: white shirt and shorts and blue socks. Like the Czechs, their prime in football was under the Soviet red flag, with which they won the first European Championship in 1960, plus two Olympic gold medals (1956 and 1988). Main clubs: Spartak Moscow (nine league titles), Dynamo Moscow (for which Lev Yashin, arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the game, played his entire career), Zenit St. Petersburg (who won the 2008 UEFA Cup after upsetting Bayern Munich in the semifinals), Rubin Kazan, and CSKA Moskva.
- San Marino: blue shirt, shorts and socks. Permanent Butt Monkey of all nations, San Marino are rooted to the bottom of the world and European rankings and are notable for only winning one senior fixture in their history, defeating Liechtenstein in a friendly in 2004. Their most famous player is Andy Selva, who is their all-time top goal scorer, with eight goals.
- Scotland: navy shirt and socks and white shorts. Despite their tradition (played the first international match ever, a 0-0 draw with England in 1872), they are always unlucky in international competitions (they never went past stage one of each World Cup final they were in). Main clubs: Celtic (European Cup champions in 1967 and runners-up in 1970) and Rangers (53 league victories against 45 from their rivals), both from Glasgow - and with a very well-documented rivalry, on and off the pitch (Celtic's supporters are Catholic, and Rangers fans are Protestants, echoing religious-based struggles like the one in which the Irelands are involved). With the Rangers' insolvency in 2011, followed by a rebranding that placed them in the fourth tier of the Scottish league (followed by two consecutive promotions), Celtic became (temporarily at least) the sole dominating team of the Highlands.
- Serbia: red shirt and socks and white shorts. While relatively new to the game, they are the direct successors of the Yugoslav legacy, which includes the 1960 Olympic gold, two second places at the European Championship (1960 and 1968) and the 1991 European Cup won by FK Red Star (or Crvena Zvezda, if you're a native Serbian speaker). Aside from the aforementioned Red Star, its other main club is Partizan, from Belgrade like RS, and which lost the 1966 European Cup to Real Madrid.
- Sweden: yellow shirt and socks and blue shorts. Hosted the 1958 World Cup, only losing the final to Brazil, and the Euro '92. Main clubs: Malmö FF (1979 European Cup runners-up), IFK Göteborg (from Gothenburg, with 18 national league victories) and AIK Solna (from Stockholm). The most prominent women's club is Umeå IK, twice Women's Champions League winners.
- Switzerland: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Hosted the 1954 World Cup and Euro 2008, the latter along with Austria. Have a tradition of playing defensive, earning them the World Cup record of time without conceding a goal (559 minutes between 2006 and 2010). Main clubs: FC Basel (who won five of the latest ten national league trophies), FC Zürich (who won three of the latest five) and Grasshopper (also from Zurich, the most nationally successful team with 27 league victories).
- Turkey: white shirt with a red horizontal band and white shorts and socks. Showed the world what they are capable of by clinching the 2002 World Cup third place. Its main teams are all from Istanbul: Galatasaray (who beat Arsenal to the 2000 UEFA Cup win), Fenerbahce and Besiktas. That Bursaspor won the 2010 national championship was a major upset made them only the second non-Istanbul club to do so; the other was six-times champion Trabzonspor.
- Ukraine: yellow shirt and socks and blue shorts. The most famous club is FC Dynamo Kyiv, which won the Soviet championship and the post-USSR Ukrainian one 13 times each, as well as the European Cup-Winners' Cup twice. In 1975, headed by European footballer of the year Oleg Blokhin, Dynamo also won the Supercup. Dynamo's greatest rival is Shakhtar Donetsk which won the Ukrainian championship five times as well as the 2009 UEFA Cup. Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Poland.