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, as of the end of the 202021 season* , are (in order) the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A, Germany's Bundesliga, France's Ligue 1, Portugal's Primeira Liga, the Dutch Eredivisie, the Russian Premier League (banned from 202223 competitions due to the country's invasion of Ukraine), the Belgian First Division A, and the Austrian Bundesliga. This list includes all countries whose top-level champions are guaranteed automatic places in the Champions League group stage. Because of the Russian ban from UEFA competitions, and the fact that 2022 CL winner Real Madrid was already guaranteed a CL group stage place by domestic performance, the Scottish Premiership and Ukrainian Premier League also got automatic group stage places for 202223.note
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 and Italy twice, and once each for Portugal, Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the USSR. Italy 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. The current (2022) champion Real Madrid have 14 wins; AC Milan 7; Bayern Munich and Liverpool 6 each; FC Barcelona (aka "Barça") 5; and Ajax 4.
- The UEFA Europa League: a secondary competition for those European clubs not quite good enough for the Champions League and those who finished in third place in the group stages of the Champions League; it was formerly called the UEFA Cup. Sevilla have the most wins, with 6note , whilst Juventus, Internazionale, Liverpool and Atlético Madrid are behind them with 3 each. The reigning champion (2022) is Eintracht Frankfurt. As of 2015/16, the winner gets a Champions League place if they don't otherwise qualify.
- A third level, the UEFA Europa Conference League, was introduced in 202122. This competition is intended specifically to give teams from lower-ranking associations a better chance to compete for a trophy, although all UEFA associations will be eligible to enter at least one side. The UECL champion, if not qualified for the following season's Champions League or Europa League by domestic performance, will automatically enter the following season's Europa League group stage. That said, the new competition received a lukewarm reaction from several of the associations it was ostensibly designed to benefit; under the new format, all associations below the top 15 in the UEFA rankings are completely locked out of the Europa League (unless they drop into it from Champions League qualifying). Three teams that advanced from EL qualifying to the group stage in 201920note are from countries that were unable to directly send any teams to the EL in 202122. The inaugural champion is Roma, which beat another "big-league" team in Feyenoord (Netherlands).
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 each by England, the Netherlands, and Sweden. The most recent championship in 2022 was won by England.
- 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 200102 season, and renamed as the Women's Champions League starting in 200910. Originally, the competition was solely for the winners of each country's top women's competition. From its reorganization as the Champions League through 202021, the runners-up of the top eight nations in women's football also competed. Starting in 202122, the runners-up of the top 16 nations enter the competition, plus the third-place teams from the top 6 nations. Like the men's Champions League, the women's version runs from August to May. The 2019 final was the first whose host city was awarded separately from that of the men's Champions League. Reigning champion Lyon have 8 wins (6 of them in the last 7 years), Eintracht Frankfurt* have 4, and Turbine Potsdam, Umeå, and Wolfsburg each have 2.
The top-ranked women's leagues, as of the end of the 202021 season* , are (in order) France's Division 1 Féminine, Germany's Frauen-Bundesliga, the FA Women's Super League of England, Spain's Primera División, Sweden's Damallsvenskan, the Czech First Division, Denmark's Kvindeligaen, the Dutch Eredivisie, the Kazakhstan Women's Championship, and Italy's Serie A.
54 domestic leagues send teams to the (men's) Champions League and Europa League.note The better a league is, the more teams qualify and the later in the competition they enter (though this is only partially true for the Conference League).
The establishment of the Conference League bled off many teams that formerly entered the Europa League; no association will be able to enter more sides in European competition than its (current) ranking would have allowed prior to the 202122 season.* The top five leagues in UEFA rankings only get to send one team to the Conference League,* while those ranked 615 and 5155 get two and leagues ranked 1650 get three.
All three competitions are divided into three phases:
- Qualification: For the Champions League and Conference League, three qualification rounds, then a playoff round. Starting in 202122, the Europa League, which previously had the same number of qualifying rounds as the Champions League, was reduced to one qualification round and one playoff round, since most of the teams that had competed in EL qualifying in past seasons were moved into the Conference League. In all competitions, each round is home/away with the aggregate score of the two legs deciding who qualifies. In case of a tie, the match proceeds directly to 30 minutes of extra time, followed by a penalty shootout if the teams are still tied. Before UEFA abolished the away goals rule in its club competitions in advance of the 202122 season, that rule was implemented at the end of regular time in the second leg, as well as the end of extra time.
- Group Phase: Eight groups of 4 teams play double round-robin. A win counts 3 points, a draw 1. In case of a tie, goal difference and head-to-head records are taken into account.
- Champions League: Champions League title holder, Europa League title holder* , top 10 champions, top 6 runners-up, top 4 thirds, top 4 fourths, 6 playoff round winners (4 champions, 2 others).
- Europa League: 10 Champions League playoff losers, 10 Europa League playoff winners, and 11 teams (12 in 202122) from higher-ranking federations that qualify through league play or domestic cups. From the 202223 tournament forward, the reigning Conference League champion enters here unless it has qualified for either the Champions League or Europa League via domestic performance.note Before 202122, this stage involved 12 groups and 48 teams.
- Conference League: 10 Europa League playoff losers, 22 Conference League playoff winners.
- Knockout Phase: Each round is home/away again, with the aggregate (total) goals scored as the basis for elimination.
- Champions League: Winners and runners-up of each group enter the knockout phase, with group winners drawn against runners-up. Before 202122, the third-place teams in each group entered the Europa League knockout phase, but this is no longer true; see below.
- Europa League: From 202122, the group winners directly enter the knockout phase proper. They are joined by the winners of the "preliminary knockout round", in which the second-place teams from each group are drawn against third-place Champions League teams in home-and-away ties. In both the Europa and Conference Leagues, group winners are drawn against teams advancing from the preliminary knockout round.
- Conference League: Group winners directly enter the knockout phase proper. They are joined by the winners in that competition's preliminary knockout round, organized in the same manner as that of the Europa League (second-place team from Conference League group meets third-place team from Europa League group).
- Teams from the same association* cannot be drawn against each other until the quarter-finals.
- Final: One game which is held at a predetermined location. This is to maintain a neutral atmosphere for the two teams (although this does mean that a team could end up hosting at its own ground; this, however, has only happened four times, the last time being 2012). Seating is guaranteed equally for the fans of the two competing clubs in case that the club owning the stadium reaches the final.
For the 201920 edition only, the knockout stage used a different format due to COVID-19. Both the CL and EL were halted in mid-March; some of the CL round of 16 ties had been completed, but none of the corresponding ties in the EL were complete, and two in the EL had yet to start. Both competitions resumed in August. The CL played its remaining second legs, as did the EL; however, the two EL ties that had yet to start were converted to one-off fixtures, and also moved to Germany (where the rest of that tournament would be played). UEFA then moved the CL final from Istanbul to Lisbon and the EL final from Gdańsk to Cologne (both cities that lost 2020 finals got them for 2021note ). For the CL, UEFA created a "bubble" in Lisbon to house the remainder of the tournament; the EL was moved to Germany, with matches played under "bubble"-style conditions around the country. All remaining knockout matches in both competitions were played as one-off matches.
The 201920 Women's CL was also disrupted by COVID-19, though the women had completed their round of 16 when things were halted. The tournament resumed in its own "bubble" in Spain with the quarterfinals, hosted by the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián.note Also paralleling the men's version, all remaining ties were one-off matches, with San Sebastián hosting the final.
Before 202122, the Women's Champions League had a slightly different format from the men's tournament, with a qualifying round consisting of four-team groups, followed by a 32-team knockout phase with all matches except the final being two-legged home/away ties.
Starting with the 202122 season, the Women's CL uses a format more similar to that of the men's version:
- Qualification: A "champions path" and a "league path", each consisting of one qualification round followed by a playoff round. (Most teams will go through the champions path, while those from higher-ranked leagues go through the league path.) The qualification round consists of four-team knockout tournaments at a single site, each with semifinals, a third-place match, and a final. The winners of the first round advance to the playoffs against higher-ranked teams in home-and-away ties scored on aggregate, with seven teams advancing from the champions path and five from the league path. This phase is explicitly designed so that at least 10 different associations will be represented in the group phase.
- Group Phase: To be introduced for the first time in 202122, under the same conditions as the men's Champions League. The 12 survivors of the qualification phase will be joined by the current title holder and the reigning champions from the top three women's leagues. (If the title holder is the champion of one of the top three leagues, the champion of the fourth-ranked league enters here.) As in the men's version, the top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout phase.
- Knockout Phase: The group phase survivors advance to a bracket in which group winners are drawn against runners-up from different groups in the quarterfinals, playing the usual home/away ties scored on aggregate. Teams from the same league cannot be drawn together until the quarterfinals.
- Final: One game held at a predetermined location, under the same conditions as for the men's final.
There is currently no equivalent to the Europa League, much less the Conference League, in the women's game.
The big seven European footballing nations, in detail, are:
Portuguese domestic football is dominated by three clubs: Benfica and Sporting, both from Lisbon, and FC Porto. Between them they have won the league 86 times out of 88: the other two wins were one-shot victories for Belenenses (Lisbon) in 1946 and Boavista (Porto) in 2001. This means that technically, the league title has never left neither Lisbon nor 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.
Spain's La Liga has historically been among the most successful and richest in the world, in large part thanks to their two giants, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the rivalry between whom is intensified by politics and what can only be called a centuries old historical vendetta: 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. Consequently, the team became a centre of Catalan culture and a rallying point - from which came the club's famous motto Mes que un club, "more than a club". Real ("Royal") Madrid, on the other hand, were at one point alleged to be Franco's "pet" team note and ambassadors for the regime, even though Real fans tend to turn down these claims; this is still a touchy subject in Spanish football and mere mentions of it can and will cause discussion to get heated. Both teams have won many European honours, though Real Madrid have the edge with a record fourteen European Cup/Champions League wins, including the first five editions of the event (19561960) as well as three straight in the last half of the 2010s. Barcelona, on the other hand, are alongside Bayern Munich the only European club to have achieved two continental treblesnote in its history, the first in 2009, and the second in 2015. Other teams include reigning champions Atlético de Madrid (third force of the country; 1974, 2014, and 2016 European runner-up, as well as 2010, 2012, and 2018 Europa League winner), Valencia CF (runner-up of the 2000 and 2001 Champions Leagues), Sevilla FC (as mentioned above, record winners of the UEFA Europa League with six titles - 2006, 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2020), Villarreal CF (2021 Europa League winner) and Athletic Bilbao (arguably the biggest team out of the Basque Country, and one of the only three to never be relegated from La Liganote 1977 and 2012 Europa League runner-up).
In the women's game, investments by the top men's teams in their women's sections from the late 2010s onward have started to pay off, evidenced by Barcelona winning the Champions League in 2021 and finishing runner-up to Lyon in 2022.
French club football has a wide range of strong teams, with a large number of clubs having historically won domestic honours - though Olympique Lyonnais, often known just as Lyon, monopolised the title from 2001/02 to 2007/08, with FC Girondins de Bordeaux breaking the streak in the following season. More recently, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) had a lesser monopoly on the title, winning four in a row (2012/132015/16), further helped by massive financial backing by Qatari owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi (it should also be noted that, compared to the other teams, PSG is something of a rookie in Ligue 1, having been founded in 1970; still, they have consistently shown themselves to be competitive, mainly in the 1980s, 1990s and late 2010s); AS Monaco broke this streak in 2017, but PSG took back its throne in 2017/18 with five matches to spare, and repeated the following season, also with five matches to spare. PSG was leading the table in 2019/20 when the COVID-19 pandemic halted and ultimately ended the season, and was awarded the title. The 202021 season saw PSG pipped to the title by Lille, but they returned to their recent dominance the following year, cruising to the title that drew them level with Saint-Étienne for the most in French history. However, French clubs have rarely challenged seriously internationally, with Olympique de Marseille's 1993 Champions League win the only occasion on which a French club has won the top European honour, a victory that came even under rather controversial circumstances. On the other hand, PSG have won the 1996 Cup Winners' Cup and are hoping to bring the Champions League to the Hexagone once again: however, their never advanced past the quarter-finals under their Qatari ownership until 2020, when they narrowly lost in the final to Bayern Munich. Other well-known clubs include Saint-Étienne (Lyon's regional rival, the country's joint most successful team with 10 victories, and runners-up of the 1976 European Cup), Lille OSC (four-time Ligue 1 champions - in 1946, 1954, 2011, and 2021), OGC Nice, AS Nancy-Lorraine, FC Nantes (winners of 8 league titles and also well-known for their youth academy), Montpellier HSC (which won their first - and currently only - Ligue 1 title in 2012 against all odds) and the aforementioned Monaco (which came closest to repeating Marseille's feat before PSG, 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 have been promoted back to Ligue 1 at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Lyon's women's section has won the Women's Champions League eight times, including six times in seven years (20162020, 2022). Because of this, they are considered by pretty much everyone as the outright most dominant force of women's club football in Europe. This streak was interrupted by another women's section of a Ligue 1 club, PSG, who took them out in the 2021 quarterfinals before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Barça.
English club football, however, has some of the strongest teams on the continent: Arsenal and Chelsea (both from London, with the latter having won the 2021 Champions League), 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 now have 19 - have won the European Championship/Champions League 6 times, most recently in 2019, as well as the Europa League/UEFA Cup another 3 times). The less storied but currently successful Manchester City are also being considered a serious threat, despite having so far failed to make a serious impression in Europe (until losing to Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final), and frequent pretenders Tottenham Hotspur are getting into the mix, having, on prior occasion, gone toe to toe with some of the continent's best teams and done respectably - most recently, emerging at the top of the traditional 'Group of Death' in the Champions League, including them, Real Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund, thrashing Madrid 3-1 at Wembley in the process (Real hadn't been beaten in the group stages in five years). They even reached the 2019 Champions League final, but lost 2-0 to Liverpool, who themselves had lost the previous year's final and felt they had a point to prove.
Other formerly successful teams include Nottingham Forest (European Champions twice, in 1978 and 1979), Aston Villa (from Birmingham, won the 1982 European Cup) and Leeds United (runners-up of the 1975 European Cup and semi-finalists of the 200001 Champions League). Villa most recently returned to the Premiership in 2019, Leeds in 2020, and Forest in 2022. None look to be threatening to return to their glory days.
The reigning league champions are Manchester City, who were pushed to the 202122 title to the very end by Liverpool. This was a very different outcome from that of 202021, in which City clinched the title with three matches to spare. City also holds records for most points earned, wins, away wins, goals, consecutive league wins, goal difference, and winning points margin in the Premier League era (1992present), with these feats accomplished by its 201718 team. The two seasons in between were also eventful. In 201819, City was again pushed to the title by Liverpool, with the title coming down to the final matchday and City winning by 1 point (9897), with third place a further 25 points behind. Then in 201920, the first of two seasons heavily affected by COVID-19, Liverpool waltzed to the title, clinching it with a record 7 matches to spare and getting 99 points, missing out on Manchester City's record point total from the year before by only 1 point - and that despite finishing the season on cruise control. The 201516 season saw perhaps the biggest surprise in football history when Leicester City, tipped for relegation and listed at 5,000-to-1 odds to win the title prior to the season... beat those odds.
At a direct counterpoint to the national team's somewhat puzzling lack of success - and, until the 2018 World Cup, abject failure - the domestic league is considered by most to be the best (and richest) league in the world (though Spain's La Liga and Germany's Bundesliga are challenging that crown). Following a fallow few years in Europe, 'best' is usually amended to 'most competitive', with up to six teams, the so-called 'Big Six', seriously vying for the title, and in the process, the top 4 places, earning qualification to the Champions League. It is frequently speculated that these two things are connected. However, following 2018/19, where Manchester City and Liverpool engaged in a battle for the title that came down to a single point on the final day, while their nearest rivals were a further 25 points behind, the two racking up the four highest points tallies in English top division history in the space of four years (100 by City in 17/18, 99 by Liverpool in 19/20, 98 by City in 18/19, and 97 by Liverpool, also in 18/19), a similar title race (if with a slightly less dramatic gulf between the top two and everyone) in 2021/22, and the two appearing in 4 of the last 5 Champions League finals, it's been argued that 'the Big Six' are now becoming 'the Big Two and the Not Quite as Big Four'.
As of 2017-18, this fallow period seems to have passed: Liverpool made it to the final, but lost to 3-1 Real Madrid in somewhat suspicious circumstances note Nevertheless, the English sides didn't look back, and provided at least one finalist in every year that followed aside from 2020. In 2019, England even managed the until then unheard-of feat of both the Champions and Europa League finals being contested by teams all from the same country (Liverpool vs. Spurs on Champions, Chelsea vs. Arsenal on Europa), with Liverpool and Chelsea emerging victorious. The 2021 Champions League final, as noted above, was also an all-English affair, with Chelsea defeating Man City, and in 2022, Liverpool reached their third Champions League final in five years, setting up a grudge match with Real Madrid won by Real.
Speaking of the national team, they are infamous for being perennial underachievers failing to translate talent into tournament success, while trumpeting how good they are. For this reason, the other big teams historically saw them as Miles Gloriosus and they usually crashed out on penalties in and around the quarter-finals, finally ignominiously exiting the 2014 World Cup at the bottom of their group. In the Southgate era, they're now viewed as a side not to be taken lightly, having finally figured out tournaments - more on that below. Bogey teams include Germany and to a lesser extent, Portugal thanks to the 2000 and 2004 Euros and the 2006 World Cup. Not even the tabloids bothered tipping them for success at tournaments any more. Instead, the hope going into the 2018 World Cup was that the inevitable failure won't be too humiliating and that reaching the Quarter-Finals, once a mark of failure, would now be considered a respectable achievement. Boy were they in for a surprise - again, more on that below.
Despite the many travails of the national team, England consistently produces excellent players, most notably the so-called 'Golden Generation' of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole and David Seaman that reigned from 1998 to 2010 (though Gerrard captained England to 2014 and Rooney remained available for selection), and are usually to be found in the top 10 teams in the world. The likes of wing forward Raheem Sterling, full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, midfielder Jude Bellingham, forward Phil Foden, and striker and current captain Harry 'Hurricane' Kane, among others, have proved that the production line of England talent isn't stopping any time soon - a point punctuated by the astonishing successes of the youth teams. However, the rule of thumb was not to expect the senior team to do it at a tournament. Because they couldn't. Or wouldn't. No one's entirely sure which, or indeed why. However, most, including ex-players, consistently cite an inability by players from top teams to lay aside club rivalries and play as a team, instead operating in cliques, meaning that what happens is that instead of a team, you have 11 highly talented individuals running around the pitch and doing their own thing.
This changed thanks to a mass overhaul of the England youth system, after the disaster of Euro 2016, when England made the knockout stage... and immediately crashed out to Iceland, a team that had never before qualified to a major tournament. The British media went nuclear on England, immediately branding the loss the worst in the country's history;note and wildly unpopular manager Roy 'Woy' Hodgson (berated for his unimaginative and outdated tactics, misuse of players, and striking resemblance to an owl) saved the FA the trouble of firing him by resigning during the post-match press conference.
His first replacement, Sam 'Big Sam' Allardyce, was a streetwise manager with a reputation for old-fashioned football and surprisingly cutting edge use of sports technology, who had harboured ambitions to manage England all his life. He took charge of one game, then promptly did the very un-streetwise thing of getting caught by a newspaper sting casually explaining how to get around FA transfer rules. He was promptly fired and replaced with Gareth Southgate, an England mainstay as a player, who missed that penalty in 1996 that put England out, and as a manager, taking charge of the U-21's after a reasonably successful spell at then Premier League Middlesborough. The general attitude was one of world-weary cynicism and suspicion. However, England's youth bore fruit, and Southgate preferred to trust in younger players (many of which he helped bring through). He ultimately rebuilt England into a technically skilled and physically fit team that could both pass its way around most other international teams, or run them ragged, providing a lethal threat off set-pieces. This team, nicknamed 'the Young Lions' for their youth, was generally considered to be one for the future
Cue a colossal shock when England promptly reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup with relative ease, breaking the so-called 'penalty curse' on the way. And then in Euro 2020, delayed to 2021 by COVID-19, they knocked their nemesis Germany out in the round of 16, before stomping Ukraine 4-0 in the last eight, and beating fan favourites Denmark in extra time in the semis to reach the final at Wembley. Heartbreakingly, they lost 3-2 on penalties to an old and wily Italy side. However, their youth has been seen as reason for optimism, and for England fans to still be dreaming - especially after they waltzed through their group at the World Cup, composed entirely of teams in the world top 20. They stuffed Iran 6-2 and Wales 3-0 (sandwiched by a 0-0 draw with a US team on the top of its game and an England team that looked faintly sluggish), then thumped African Champions Senegal 3-0 in the Round of 16, setting up a blockbuster quarter-final with France.
In the women's game, Arsenal (now the women's section of the Premier League side) have one Women's Champions League title and the women's national team, known as ''The Lionesses'' are the reigning European champions, having beaten Germany in the final of Women's Euro 2022 at Wembley Stadium in London. Another notable England win over Germany came in the third-place match of the 2015 Women's World Cup, after missing out on a place in the final when one of the defenders was forced to intercept a dangerous cross at full stretch before it got to an opposition striker and knocked it into her own net. If nothing else, this proved that they are very definitely an England team. However, their determination, style, willingness to play their hearts out and obvious desire to win won them a lot of fans, if only because of the contrast with (at that point) the chronically underachieving men's team, which has frequently and justly been accused of laziness, incoherence, and apathy. Indeed, it was the Lionesses who finally broke England's 56-year duck by winning UEFA Women's 2022 with an extra-time wing against who else? Germany.
Speaking of the women's game, the English top level, the FA Women's Super League, has been skyrocketing up the ranks of European and world women's leagues, thanks to major investments from Premier League sides. This investment has enabled them to sign a fair number of international stars.
The Dutch league is dominated by three sides - Ajax of Amsterdam (the reigning champions; 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, and are renowned for producing extraordinarily good players, including the late, great Johan Cruyff, the crux of the all-conquering Total Football Dutch side of the 70's and inventor of the Cruyff turn, a deceptively difficult piece of skill which, when properly executed, leaves defenders on their arses. When improperly executed, the attacker winds up on his arse, and everyone laughs. Ajax and PSV have also completed a continental treble each: in 1972 and 1988, respectively. However, Feyenoord was the last Dutch side that won a European trophy: the UEFA Cup in 2002. Coincidentally, Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV all have red and white as their society colors, but adopt different jersey schemes to differentiate themselves: Ajax have a red shirt body with white sleeves; Feyenoord have a red half and a white half; PSV have vertical red and white stripes, a style shared with fellow Dutch side and Feyenoord's city rivals, Sparta Rotterdam. Other clubs include AZ Alkmaar (made the 1980-81 UEFA Cup Final, losing to Ipswich Town), FC Groningen (which revealed world-class players such as Arjen Robben, Luis Suárez in his first European club after leaving Nacionalnote , and Virgil van Dijk), and FC Twente (the latest team outside the Ajax-Feyenoord-PSV trifecta to win the national title, in 2009-10).
On the women's side, the Dutch came out of nowhere to win the Women's Euro 2017 at home; this marked the first time that Germany had failed to win that competition since 1993. They followed it up with a run to the 2019 World Cup final in France, losing there to the USWNT.
Despite being one of the most successful European sides, Italy are famous for winning when they're not considered favourites by the bookmakers, and have also become known for their highly tactical and defensive style of play - in fact, they only conceded two goals in their winning 2006 campaign, and one of them was an own goal. In the 1982 World Cup for instance, their victory came as something of a shock. After an underwhelming group stage, they defeated both Brazil and Argentina (with Brazil in particular being the favourite by bookmakers to win the tournament) in the knock-out stages, then beat West Germany in the final. Again in the 1994 World Cup, after only advancing from the group stage as one of the best third placed teams, they reached the final and only lost, on the penalties, against Brazil (thanks to the infamous missed penalty by Roberto Baggio, the biggest star in the team). The last example was in the 2006 World Cup; after a huge match-fixing scandal in Italian football 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, having not been national champions for 16 years at that point - though Juve reclaimed their crown in 2012, starting a string of nine titles, with only Napoli and - to a slightly lesser extent - Roma mounting up a serious challenge to their dominance in that span), the national team was able to avoid any distraction and go forward to win the World Cup making a huge comeback.
In the 2010s, despite reaching the European Championship Final in 2012 (where they were curbstomped 4-0 by the all-conquering Spain), the Italian team was in something of a transition period, with the best players retiring and the new leaders not being good enough to make a team that can compete with the best. In fact, the team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, for the first time in 60 years, after a shocking 1-0 defeat against Sweden that they couldn't make up for. After this, though, the Azzurri experienced a steady rise back to their usual levels, helped by Roberto Mancini's tenure and a slew of young, promising talents. They subsequently reached the 2020/21 Nations League's Final Four as hosts, and qualified to Euro 2020 after winning all of their matches in the group. They promptly stormed to the final, going up against a young and dynamic England side at Wembley, who they ultimately beat on penalties. Under Mancini they have also went in the longest unbeaten run in international football, going 37 games without a single loss. Also in 2021, Juve's reign over Serie A ended, with Inter claiming the title. The following year, however, this revival in fortunes came to a screeching halt when they failed to qualify for a second successive World Cup; having narrowly finished second in their qualifying group to Switzerland (despite not actually losing a game), they were stunned by North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final, losing 1-0 via a last minute goal. Domestically, Milan took the scudetto from their crosstown rivals.
Italian sides have also been very strong in Europe, and there are several different teams that have won major honours at home and internationally - as a matter of fact, with 51 titles in total, Italy is the second most successful country in world football when it comes to total trophies won behind Argentina: AC Milan and Internazionale (both from Milan) won respectively seven and three European Cups - both managed to win two back-to-back European Cups - 1989 and 1990 for AC Milan, 1964 and 1965 for Inter - and the latter became the first and currently only Italian team to complete the continental treble in 2010. Juventus of Turin is Italy's dominant team, with 36 titles and counting.note Other famous teams are AS Roma and Lazio from the capital - the former reached the 1984 European Cup Final and won the inaugural Conference League in 2022, and the latter won the final edition of the Cup Winners' Cup in 1999, Fiorentina of Florence - Baggio's first major club, and one-time runners-up in both the European Cup and the UEFA Cup, Genoa CFC and Sampdoria of Genoa - the former is one of the oldest football clubs in the world and were the uncontested dominators of Serie A's early years, and the latter has reached the 1992 European Cup Final, Napoli of, well, Naples - who are most famous for being the club Diego Maradona has played for at the height of his career, and have also won the UEFA Cup once with him in 1989 beating teams like Juventus and Bayern Munich on the way, and Parma, winners of two UEFA Cups in 1995 and 1999, and have achieved back-to-back-to-back promotions from Serie D - Italy's equivalent to England's League Two - all the way to Serie A from 2016 to 2018. Finally, there also are Atalanta BC, a historical minnow from Bergamo that has recently become a high-placing side in Serie A - culminating in back-to-back Champions League qualifications in 2019 and 2020, and their fierce rivals Brescia Calcio, the side that launched the career of Andrea Pirlo, qualifying for European football in the late Nineties and early Noughties with his help. In recent years, the reputation of the Serie A for quality has taken a nosedive, being eclipsed by the resurgent Bundesliga, but this may be changing, due to Juventus reaching the 2015 and 2017 Champions League finals - both lost respectively against Barcelona and Real Madrid, and also Roma reaching the Champions League semifinals in 2018 after an upsetting 3-0 comeback victory against Barcelona in the quarter-finals's second leg following a 4-1 thrashing by the Azulgrana in the first leg. They almost managed to do the same against Liverpool, but ultimately were eliminated 7-6 on aggregate.
However, disaster struck at the 2018 World Cup, which Germany entered as one of the favourites and defending champions. They got what seemed to be a relatively easy group, with Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea - decent enough teams, but ones that the Germany sides of old would roll straight over. Stuffed with players from the best club sides in Europe and veterans of the 2014 World Cup, it was generally thought that they'd do exactly that. Then they lost their opening match to Mexico, who ran rings around them, making them look old, sluggish, and outdated. After that, they narrowly and controversially beat Sweden thanks to a last minute free-kick, before going into their final group game requiring a win (or a draw, if Sweden didn't beat Mexico). At the beginning of the match, it was still possible for South Korea to advance with a win, making this match an all to play for situation. Since South Korea was seen as a much weaker team, losing both of their group matches, it was thought that Germany would manage. They didn't, losing 2-0, and exiting at the bottom of the group, going out at the group stage for the first time since 1938. Worse still, they were relegated from the inaugural Nations League after failing to beat France or Netherlands, losing a 2-goal lead with 5 minutes left against the Dutch for them to win the group, though the Germans had been confirmed as last place before this game.
The Bundesliga, sometimes known as Buli for short, has become well-known for its "fans first" policy, most famously the "50+1 rule", which dictates that club members hold the majority of voting rights, protecting clubs from outside investors.Exceptions Thanks to this fan-oriented approach, the Bundesliga enjoys the highest average attendance out of all football leagues in the world, and the second-highest average attendance in world sports leagues, only behind the NFL. German club football is dominated by Bayern Munich, with the 2021-22 title being their 10th straight, though there are plenty of other strong teams out there such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV (until they got relegated for the first time in 2018), VfB Stuttgart, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04 (from Gelsenkirchen, near the Dutch border, were relegated after a disgraceful 2020/21 season fraught with issues both on and off the pitch, but promptly returned to the top flight a year later), Eintracht Frankfurt, 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, and three Champions Leagues in 2001, 2013, and 2020, and Dortmund (1997) and Hamburg (1983) 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, Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich, and Schalke have won the now-defunct European Cup Winners' Cup and/or the UEFA Cup (both of which were predecessors to the Europa League), and Eintracht won the Europa League in 2022. 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, which was also the only time they qualified for the World Cup (coincidentally held in their Western neighbors, whom they actually defeated in the first group stage). In recent history, the relatively new (and controversial) club RB Leipzignote has seen an incredibly quick ascent to German football stardom, reaching the Bundesliga for the 2016-17 season and placing second there, just 8 years from their formation. Not to mention reaching the Champions League semifinals three years after that. FC St. Pauli, from Hamburg, is also a major Ensemble Dark Horse: despite being far less successful on the pitch than their cross-town rivals, they've become very well-known in footy fandom for their fanbase's punk ethos and general openness to everyone.
The German women's national team won the World Cup twice, in 2003 and 2007, and the European championship eight times (including every competition from 1995 through 2013). The country has also been highly successful at the women's club level, winning the Women's Champions League nine times (four times by Frankfurt before it became Eintracht's women's section, 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. However, they still managed to leave a big mark on European footy with their star manager, Ernst Happel, who won two European Cups in 1970 (with Feyenoord) and 1983 (with Hamburg). 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, and the club that launched Happel's career as a player), Austria Wien (trailing behind their rivals Rapid, with 23 wins), Sturm Graz (a recent national powerhouse, with 3 titles - the most recent in 2011) and Red Bull Salzburg (fka Austria Salzburg before a controversial takeover and rebrand in 2005, winners of 13 of the last 16 titles, with a current streak of nine). However, the Red Bulls always seemed to find ways to lose their Champions League qualifiers in bizarre manners - including conceding two goals at home on Fergie time in the playoffs second leg against Red Star Belgrade in 2018, until they finally reached the group stages for the 2019-20 season through coefficients. They had to play in the final CL qualifying round for 202021, but this time made it to the group stage.
- 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. In fact, they reached fourth place in the 1986 World Cup, and in early 2016, with the help of highly rated players such as Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, Inter Milan (ex-Roma) midfielder Radja Nainggolan and (ex-Man United) striker Romelu Lukaku, Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen and midfielder Mousa Dembélé, Chelsea attacking midfielder Eden Hazard, Real Madrid (ex-Chelsea) goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (in fact, a prolific position in Belgian football is the goalkeeper, as legends like Jean-Marie Pfaff and Michel Preud'homme can attest), and Napoli striker/winger Dries Mertensnote , the "Red Devils" briefly reached #1 in the FIFA World Rankings (they entered Euro 2016 at #2, but were thrashed 31 in the quarterfinals by tournament surprise package Wales). A full-score finish in the 2018 World Cup group stage and a subsequent third-place finish cemented their status as a modern revelation and one of the most fearsome national sides in recent years. Co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with the Netherlands. Belgian club football is dominated by Anderlecht of Brussels, Standard Liège, Club Brugge of Bruges, KAA Gent and KRC Genk, with Brugge being the current champions. Club Brugge in particular made 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. The main clubs have historically been CSKA Sofia (31 league victories, and revealed Stoichkov) and Levski Sofia (CSKA's main rivals, with 26 titles). However, the dominant side now is Ludogorets Razgrad, which has won the title in every season since first entering the top flight in 201112, and most recently clinched its 11th straight title in 202122 with four matches to spare. Nowadays, the national team has had little success, save for beating Netherlands and quarter finalists elect Sweden in an otherwise poor 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign (where they didn't win any away games, even against Luxembourg) and are nowadays infamous for fascist groups infiltrating into games, such as two heavy home defeats to England in dire Euro 2012 and 2020 qualifying campaigns, in spite of the nation's pride in its protection of Jewish communities during WW2. After the latter incident, the president made the FA head and manager resign - Bulgaria were also winless at that point, though made the Nations league playoffs, due to its decent performance against Norway, Slovenia and Cyprus, and most teams in the top 2 levels qualifying in the standard manner.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: 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 waror 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 Salihamidić (formerly from Bayern Munich) and AS Roma's Edin Deko (formerly of Manchester City). 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 and, despite being knocked out at Group Stage after losing to Argentina and Nigeria, they recorded a 3-1 win over Iran. They were one of 4 level 2 teams to win their group in the First Nations league, and were the most convincing, with 3 wins and a draw. Their main teams are the capital's biggest rivals, FK Sarajevo and eljezničar, both of which were also traditional teams in the Yugoslav League. Other teams include Velez and 202122 champions Zrinjski from Mostar - both historic teams that were forcibly disbanded by Tito's regime in 1945 before resurrecting after his demise, as well as Borac Banja Luka.
- 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, the second place in 2018 and the latter team's midfielder Luka Modrić's crowning as the world's best player in the same year are any indication. Main teams: Dinamo Zagreb (the reigning champion, with 23 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. Have made every European Championship as of 2016 when independent but only one World Cup, in 2006. Main teams: Sparta Praha (most victorious in the country, with 12 leagues under their belts) and Slavia Praha, both from Prague - the latter of whom is the club Josef Bican, the most prolific striker in the history of the game, has played for much of his career, and reigning champion Viktoria Plzeň (also with five titles in the 2010s).
- Denmark: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Won the Euro '92 after replacing the war-torn Yugoslavia in the nick of time, and made an inspiring run to the Euro 2020 semifinals after the near-fatal on-field collapse of star Christian Eriksen in their opening match. Main clubs: FC Copenhagen (the reigning champion, and also has the most titles in the modern Danish league, with 14 victoriesnote ), Brøndby (with 11 national championships, and in which Michael Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel first gained prominence), and FC Midtjylland. The women's national team notably ended Germany's 20-plus-year reign over the Women's Euro, taking them down in the 2017 quarterfinals before losing to the homestanding Netherlands in the final.
- Georgia: White uniform with red accents. Alongside Ukraine, they provided much of the USSR's biggest footballing talents, and although their clubs have almost never reached continental prominence they've often had a steady supply of world-class players. Recently, however, their national team has been on a meteoric rise with a new generation of talented players, most prominently Giorgi Mamardashvili and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia; they were promoted from League D in the first edition of the Nations League, and have been a mainstay of League C until the 2022 edition where they dominated their group and were promoted to League B. Their main club is Dinamo Tbilisi, two-time winners of the Soviet Top League, 18-time Georgian league champions and winners of the 1981 Cup Winners' Cup.
- 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, and can sometimes be highly inconsistent (a horrific Euro 2016 qualifiers campaign in between a World Cup campaign and one in which they reached the play offs, and a poor Nations League campaign where Greece both beat, AND lost to, ALL 3 of their opponents (Finland, Hungary and Estonia, the latter's sole win in the group). In terms of league football, the Greek Super League is sadly synonymous with corruption, to the point that an entirely new Greek word, "paranga", was created to refer to incidents such as match-fixing and bribes. Main teams: Olympiacos (from Piraeus, the dominant team in Greek football and reigning champions, with 47 league trophies) and Panathinaikos (from Athens, which reached the 1971 European Cup final, losing it to Johan Cruyff's Ajax, and which makes with Olympiacos one of the biggest club rivalries in the sport), AEK Athens (12 titles), and PAOK Thessaloniki (3 titles, the latest in 201819 conquered with an undefeated league season).
- 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 Puskás and Sandor Kocsis. Everything came crashing down with the loss at the 1954 World Cup final and the suppression of the 1956 rebellion (which led many of their star players to seek refuge in other pastures, notably the aforementioned Puskás and Kocsis who went to Spain and became legends in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, respectively), and now their legacy consists of three Olympic gold medals (1952, 1964 and 1968) and another World Cup second place (in 1938). However, they are experiencing a slow renaissance in recent years, culminating with a qualification to the Euro 2020 group stages; despite finishing last in their group they have received plaudits by fans across Europe by putting up good performances against their vastly superior group rivals, including holding both France and Germany to a draw. Main clubs: Ferencváros (the reigning champions with 33 national league victories), Kispest Honvéd (whose 1950s team was practically synonymous with the Magical Magyars) and Fehérvár FC (runners-up of the 1985 UEFA Cup, and winner of 3 titles).
- Iceland: all blues with red accents on the shirt. As one of the smallest football nations, the team didn't really do much until they made their first major tournament appearance at Euro 2016 after upsetting the Netherlands. They proceeded to stun people by drawing against Portugal and Hungary before defeating Austria to advance to the knockout round where they upset England. Just to put this in perspective, England was composed of top-class professional players and a manager who was paid millions. Iceland, by contrast, had several formerly semi-pro players (most played for moderate sides in major overseas leagues, but, whilst the keeper played in a Nordic top flight, he was a part-time music video director) and their manager was a part-time dentist. Even though they were defeated by hosts France right after, they earned the respect and love of football fans everywhere for their performance. And they followed that up by qualifying directly for the 2018 World Cup, becoming the smallest nation (by population) ever to reach the World Cup final tournament.note Unfortunately, the fairytale didn't last beyond the World Cup: they struggled in Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifying, and didn't get out of the playoffs to join Sweden, Denmark and Finland in the tournament. And then it got worse: a massive scandal further rocked the team, with most of their strongest players being implicated in sexual assault cases and ending up sidelined as a result. This exacerbated the team's downward spiral, and culminated in Strákarnir okkar failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup altogether after a horrible showing in their qualification group. Main clubs: KR Reykjavík (the oldest and most successful club with 27 titles), Valur Reykjavík (KR's crosstown rivals, and the second most successful club with 22 titles), and ÍA (from Akranes, just north of Reykjavík, has won 18 titles, the most recent in 2001). The reigning (2022) champions, however, are Breiðablik, from the Reykjavík suburb of Kópavogur.
- Ireland: green shirt and socks and white shorts. Not counting basketball-obsessed Lithuania, 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 for three World Cups and advancing from the first stage in all three. The team became one of the top teams in Europe after Jack Charlton became its manager, and started bringing in English players with second or third generation Irish backgrounds. The squad is centred around players playing their footy in England (often for moderate PL sides) and Scotland, though some played in their home country's league at youth level (such as Roy Keane, Iain Harte, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Doyle at Cobh, Home Farm, Sligo, and Cork), and two sides from that league have played in the Europa League group stage with Dundalk having nearly made the Champions league at one point. Fun fact: The team's fans were so well-behaved at the Euro '16 tournament that the Mayor of Paris awarded them the Grand Vermeil, Paris' most prestigious honour. Main clubs: Dundalk (the most successful club in the current Premier Division era, with 8 titles); the Dublin clubs Shelbourne, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers (the reigning champions and most successful club overall, with 20 titles), Cork City, and Derry City - who have played in Ireland's league system since 1985 despite hailing from Northern Ireland, due to security issues caused by the Troubles and frictions with the IFA.
- Northern Ireland: green shirt and socks and white shorts. One of the four Home Nations, its main claim to fame for the sport is being the homeland of George Best, one of the greatest wingers of all time, who unfortunately could not translate to the national team his success with Manchester United in the 1960s. They were also a mid-level team during the 1980s, when they qualified for both World Cups held at the time (reaching the second round in 1982), thanks in no small part to secure performances by their star goalkeeper Pat Jennings, one of the Spurs' all-time greats and record holder for caps for the "Norn Iron" team. Their tradition, however, is marred by sectarianism that goes back even before The Troubles, which has led to riots in league matches, and is something the IFA, along with the new generation of the Green & White Army, is currently working to overturn. Traditional clubs include Linfield (one of the world's record holders for domestic honors, with over 90 trophies to their name - and that's only counting first leagues and cups) and Glentoran, both from Belfast, and whose derby (always held at Boxing Day) is consistently the Irish League's main attraction.
- 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. Surprisingly enough, they are the only national team in the world that Brazil has never defeated - the Norwegians' tally against them consists of 2 victories and 2 draws. Only made 3 World Cups (2 in the 1990s) and one Euros, but won its level 3 Nations League group in the event's first iteration, making their 2020 qualifying pairing with Sweden (who won their group a level above) potentially massive (both meetings were draws). Although they missed out on qualification to the 2022 World Cup by the skin of their teeth, the rise of world-class talents like Martin Ødegaard, Leo Skiri Østigård, and most prominently Erling Haaland has made them a team to look out for. Its main club is Trondheim side Rosenborg, who won the league 25 times - 13 of them in a row (1992 to 2004), with other notable clubs including Vålerenga from the capital Oslo, SK Brann from the city of Bergen, Viking FK from Stavanger, Molde FK (2022 league champions), Lillestrøm SK, and Bodø/Glimt.
- Poland: white shirt and socks and red shorts. A surprisingly capable nation, bringing to the world talents like Michał Żewłakow, Zbigniew Boniek, Kazimierz Deyna, Włodzimierz Lubański, Jerzy Dudek (Liverpool's goalkeeper in their 2005 Champions League victory), and more recently, Robert Lewandowski (selected by FIFA as the best men's player in the world in 2020), Jakub Blaszczycowski, Miroslav Klose (ethnic Pole), Lukas Podolski (ethnic Pole), Arkadiusz Milik, and Piotr Zielinski. Gold medallist in 1972, and third place in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups. Despite these premises, the Ekstraklasa is a bit of a meme among football fans for its extreme unpredictability and sometimes hilariously poor technical level for a European top-flight. Main clubs: Wisła Kraków (with seven national titles in the last 14 seasons), regional rivals Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów (14 total league titles apiece, and the former were runners-up of the 1971 Cup Winners' Cup), Legia Warszawa (which broke a tie for most league titles with their 15th in 2021) and reigning champion Lech Poznań (the only Polish club in the top 100 of the UEFA rankings thanks to some impressive European performances, and the club that revealed Lewandowski). Another notable side is Piast Gliwice, who conquered their first home title in 201819 after narrowly escaping relegation the season before. Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Ukraine. Interestingly, Poland's women are the only national team that the USA has never defeatedthe two teams drew in their only encounter in 1989.note
- 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, now known as FCSB due to a bizarre legal dispute in 2014 (1986 European winners, and runners-up in 1989 - on both occasions helmed by Hagi too - and greatest national winners with 26 titles), Dinamo Bucharest (Steaua's crosstown rivals and second most successful club in Romania, with 18 titles), five-time reigning champions CFR Cluj (with three more titles in the 21st century to boot), Universitatea Craiova (4 titles), and the now disbanded Viitorul Constanța (formed in 2009, owned and managed by Hagi himself, won their only top-flight title in 2017 and merged with historic club Farul Constanța to bring them back to the top flight in 2021).
- 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). Also held the most recent edition of the World Cup, in 2018. Main clubs: Spartak Moscow (10 league titles), Dynamo Moscow (for which Lev Yashin, arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the game, played his entire career), Zenit St. Petersburg (the current league champions, who won the 2008 UEFA Cup after upsetting Bayern Munich in the semifinals, but unfortunately have also become infamous for their extremely racist fanbase), Rubin Kazan (first promoted to the top flight in 2003, and have won 2 titles in 2008 and 2009), and CSKA Moscow (the first club in Russia to win a European competition, the UEFA Cup in 2005).
- San Marino: blue shirt, shorts and socks. Permanent Butt-Monkey of all nations (aside from some smaller Asian and Oceanian teams that don't garner nearly as many headlines), 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. They were the only nation to not score a goal in the inaugural Nations League, despite the relatively like-minded nature of opponents in the event's format, which saw them lose to Belarus, Luxembourg and Moldova, whereas all other level 4 teams earned at least 2 points.
- 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 or Euro final they were in, even in the late 70s and early 80s where the team was made up of talented players like Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness), though they had more luck in the first ever Nation's League, getting the sole 3-team group in Level 3 and holding off Albania and Israel, the latter in a winner takes all, 5-goal finale. This gave them a fallback after an abject qualifying group, which began with a 3-0 loss in Kazakhstan, and saw Scotland mathematically ruled out with 3 games still to play. And they took full advantage of it, beating Israel and Serbia (both on penalties) to qualify for their first major tournament in 22 years. Main clubs: The "Old Firm" of Celtic (European Cup champions in 1967 and runners-up in 1970) and Rangers (55 league victories against 52 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 two Irelands are involved - in fact, experienced BBC journalists in Northern Ireland during the Troubles noticed that the timing of riots generally had a lot to do with football fixtures; specifically, they tended to die down just in time for an Old Firm match, and then return with a vengeance afterwards). 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 and, as of 201516, a third back to the Scottish Premiership), Celtic temporarily became the sole dominant team of the Highlands. That lasted until Rangers claimed their first post-insolvency title in 2021 with Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard managing them to an unbeaten league season, which earned him a new gig on the other side of Hadrian's Wall at Aston Villa. Celtic reclaimed their crown in 2022.
- 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 Belgrade (or Crvena Zvezda, if you're a native Serbian speaker; they also hold the world record for most points in a league campaign with 108 points in the 2020/21 season - edging out former record holders Celtic by just two points). Aside from the aforementioned Red Star, its other main club is their cross-town arch-rival Partizan, 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. In recent years, despite not relying anymore on their famous star player Zlatan Ibrahimović, they have built up a reputation as a fearsome giant killer, kicking out both the Netherlands and Italy from the 2018 World Cup altogether, almost giving France the same fate, and also being indirectly responsible for Germany's elimination in the group stage despite a last minute 2-1 loss against them. Even though their World Cup run ended with a 2-0 defeat against England in the quarter-finals, they kept up the momentum all the way into Euro 2020, where they surprisingly pipped Spain to first place in their group; they didn't go much further, though, as they were eliminated by Ukraine in the round of 16 through a last-minute goal in extra time. Their form took a nosedive since then, as they were relegated to League C in the 2022/23 edition of the Nations League and failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Main clubs: Malmö FF (the country's most successful side with 22 league victories and 1979 European Cup runners-up, and also the club that launched Ibrahimović's career), IFK Göteborg (from Gothenburg, with 18 national league victories), IFK Norrköping (13 league titles, the latest in 2015), and AIK, Djurgården and Hammarby (all three from Stockholm; the former two have 12 league titles each to their names, the latter just one). However, the most recent champion is another Gothenburg side, BK Häcken, which won their first-ever title in 2022 with two matches to spare. The most prominent women's club is Umeå IK, twice Women's Champions League winners and also the club where Marta first came to international prominence.
- 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). However, scored 5 goals to beat Belgium from 2-0 down, and surpass them in head to head standings when they were level on points in their level 1 nations league group, and therefore made the final 4, along with England, Netherlands and Portugal. And in Euro 2020, scored 2 goals in the final 10 minutes to draw level with heavily favored France in the round of 16, survived extra time, and sent Les Bleus home in the penalty shootout. Main clubs: FC Basel (winners of 11 of the 19 titles since the current Super League was established in 200304), Young Boys from the capital of Bern (with a four-year title streak from 20182021, who also reached a European Cup semifinal in 1959), FC Zürich (with the other four titles in the Super League era, including the most recent in 202122) and Grasshopper (also from Zürich, the most nationally successful team with 27 league victories; were sadly relegated in 2019 following many tribulations on and off the pitch but have returned to the top flight 2 years later, also helped by a change to a Bundesliga-esque fans-first ownership model).
- Turkey (or Türkiye, the Turkish-language name, which both FIFA and UEFA now use): 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, but have since faded intermittently - their world cup qualifying campaigns have been dire, but they made the semi finals again in Euro 2008 after some stirring comebacks, outdid Netherlands to get to Euro 2016, and have upstaged world champions France in Euro 2020 qualification. Unfortunately, despite having every reason to perform well in the tournament, they crashed and burned in spectacular fashion in the group stage, losing all of their matches in the group. Its main teams are all from Istanbul: Galatasaray (22 league titles, and beat Arsenal to the 2000 UEFA Cup win), Fenerbahçe (Galatasaray's arch-rivals, based right across the Bosphorus Strait on the Asian part of Istanbul, with 19 titles) and Beşiktaş (16 titles, most recently in 2021). That Bursaspor won the 2010 national championship in a major upset made them only the second non-Istanbul club to do so; the other was seven-time and 2022 champion Trabzonspor. The only other team to have won a league title is another Istanbul club, Başakşehir (one title in 2020).
- Ukraine: yellow shirt and socks and blue shorts. Out of all the ex-Soviet Union countries they are arguably the most successful, providing much of the USSR's greatest talents and maintaining a strong tradition after their breakup, most prominently preserved by famed AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko. The most famous club is reigning champion FC Dynamo Kyiv, which won the Soviet championship 13 times and the post-USSR Ukrainian one 16 times, 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, with one Soviet championship and 13 post-Soviet Ukrainian titles, plus the 2009 UEFA Cup. Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Poland. They only qualified for one World Cup, in 2006, but captained by their greatest post-USSR star, Andriy Shevchenko, they acquitted themselves very well, making it to the top 8 and only being stopped by then-future champions Italy in the quarter-finals. Promoted to level 1 in the inaugural Nations League campaign, along with Bosnia, Sweden and Denmark, and became one of the first teams to qualify automatically for Euro 2020, eclipsing Portugal.
- Wales: red shirt with green stripes on the shoulder, red shorts and socks, sometimes known as 'the Dragons'. Currently in the process of changing its FIFA-recognised name to Cymru, the country's Welsh-language name; it's used "Cymru" for domestic purposes since 2019. Historically something of a joke and the weakest of the so-called 'Home Nations', partly because the near religious reverence that the Welsh have historically held for rugby. Between the World Cup of 1958 (which they were knocked out of by a young fellow named Pelé) and Euro 2016, they failed to qualify for a single major tournament, but still produced a number of great players: legendary Liverpool striker and the club's all time top scorer Ian Rush; Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall; Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs, later the national team manager; and longtime Real Madrid and current Los Angeles FC winger Gareth Bale, who took over from Rush as the national team's top goal scorer in 2018. Ranked 117th in 2011, they have rapidly improved, only stalling after the tragic suicide of their young manager Gary Speed. Fiercely talented players like Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, combined with a strong team ethos, led to a meteoric rise, breaking into the top 10 in July 2015 for the first time after being unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying, beating highly rated then World #2 team, Belgium. This proved a mere prelude to an astonishing Euro 2016; crushing Russia 30 in the group stage, beating Northern Ireland in the Round of 16, and registering another win over Belgium (this time a 31 thrashing) before they ran out of steam against a fortunate Portugal in the semi-finals. However, their efforts made them, with Iceland, briefly the sweethearts of a continent. Sadly, despite a heroic effort, they narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup. They qualified for Euro 2020, and went down valiantly in the Round of 16 to a fired up Denmark. While Wales has its own league, the two best teams, Swansea and Cardiff, play in the English leagues. Swansea got to the Premier League for the first time in 2011, and established themselves as an upper mid-table side, winning the League Cup in 2013. However, a disastrous 201718 season saw them relegated. Cardiff, by contrast, were promoted in 2013, then relegated the following year, but eventually made it back for 201819, only to cruelly rebound back down with a game to spare and leave the top flight without a Welsh side for the first time since 2011. Another Welsh team that plays in the English leagues is Wrexham, one of the oldest clubs in the world which had some good campaigns in the 1970s (up to and including making the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1976), and famous wins over well-established teams, like their eliminating of Arsenal in the third round of the 1991-92 FA Cup. These days, however, they play the National League, which is the fifth division in the league system - though having recently been acquired by Deadpool a.k.a. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, their fortunes may be about to improve. In Wales itself, the dominant team in recent years has been The New Saints, which have claimed nine Cymru Premier (formerly known as the Welsh Premier League) titles in 11 seasons after clinching the 202122 title with seven matches to spare. The first eight of said titles were in succession before Connah's Quay Nomads claimed the 201920 and 202021 titlee. TNS are themselves an example of a cross-border team, as they represent both the village of Llansantffraid and the town of Oswestry just across the Wales-England border, and play home matches in Oswestry.note