UEFA Champions League
An annual event that is open to top-division European clubs that are their national leagues' champions and runners-up, the UEFA Champions League is one of the most prestigious football tournaments in the world.
Organised by the Union of European Football Associations, top teams compete for the prestige of winning the trophy, and also for prize money totalling more than 1.3 billion euros.
The competition began in 1955, although it was called the European Champion Clubs' Cup - abbreviated to the European Cup - in those days. It was based on a format of the top clubs in Europe competing against each other.
Prior to 1955, there had been a number of smaller European tournaments for the top domestic teams from each country, beginning in 1927 with the Mitropa Cup. This had been devised by the famous football manager, Hugo Meisl, who coached Austria from 1919 to 1937. However, it was open only to Central European clubs.
The first true European Cup took place during the 1955/56 season, when 16 teams participated, including Milan, Hibernian of Scotland, PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid. The final took place at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris between Spanish champions Real Madrid and French champions Stade de Reims.
Real Madrid won 4-3 in a thrilling final, with two goals from Héctor Rial and a goal apiece from Alfredo Di Stéfano and Marquitos securing the title.
Over the years, the UEFA Champions League has evolved into the current format, enabling not only the winners of each domestic league, but also the runners-up, third and fourth-placed teams to qualify.
Since the 2009/10 season, the tournament has begun with a round-robin style group stage. 32 teams are divided into groups of four and each team plays every other team in their group twice, in home and away legs. The 2017/18 tournament began with the first leg of the first qualifying round on 27th June 2017.
The championship continues through the second and third qualifying rounds, with a draw taking place before each round to randomly decide the opposing teams for each match. The tournament proceeds through the play-offs, the group stage and the round of 16.
The 2017/18 round of 16 draw took place on 11th December 2017 and the first leg of the matches took place between 13th February and 21st February 2018. The second leg began on 6th March and the round of 16 matches will be completed on 13th and 14th March.
The round of 16 stage decides who progresses to the quarter-finals. Currently, a number of teams already have their place in the quarter-finals assured, including the current title holders, Real Madrid, who knocked out PSG in the second leg of the round of 16 on 6th March.
Other teams already through to the quarter-finals include Manchester City, who beat FC Basel 5-2 on aggregate, despite City's shock 1-2 defeat at home to Basel on 7th March in the second leg.
In winning at the Etihad, Basel ended City's 36-match unbeaten home record. Prior to their defeat to Swiss club Basel, the current Premier League leaders hadn't lost a home match under Pep Guardiola since 3rd December 2016.
Liverpool are also through to the quarter-finals after beating Porto 5-0 on aggregate, while Tottenham lost to Juventus 1-2 on 7th March, sending the Italian team through 3-4 on aggregate.
Manchester United are due to play the second leg of their match against Sevilla on 13th March after the first leg finished 0-0. Chelsea will play the second leg of their match against Barcelona on 14th March after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Semi-finals and final
The quarter-final draw will be held on 16th March and the games will take place over two legs, from 3rd April until 11th April. The semi-finals final draw takes place on 13th April and the games will be played over two legs, from 24th April until 2nd May.
On 26th May, the final will be held at the NSC Olimpiyski stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine - the Olympic national sports complex with the capacity to seat 70,000 people.
Each of the 32 clubs in the group stage receives a guaranteed minimum payment of 12.7 million euros and this is further boosted by bonus payments of 1.5 million euros per win and 500,000 euros per draw in the group stage.
The teams in the round of 16 receive an additional six million euros each, the quarter-finalists receive another 6.5 million euros each and the semi-finalists pocket a further 7.5 million euros each.
… And the UEFA Champions League winner? Well, the teams are playing for a purse of 15.5 million euros, with the runners-up netting a healthy 11 million euros. The winning club could therefore be collecting a total of 57.2 million euros!
Beginning with the 2018/19 tournament, the format of the UEFA Champions League is due to change as a result of discussions that were finalised in August 2016. In future, the top four teams from the four highest-ranked football associations will enter the group stage, following a consultation process amongst all European football stakeholders.
The new procedure for entries has been confirmed for the annual championship up to the 2020/21 season. There will be no changes to the competition's system.
The UEFA Europa League winner will automatically qualify for the Champions League group stage - a change from the current procedure. The Champions League 32-team group stage and 16-club knockout phase will continue.
There will be a slight change to the club coefficients system - the statistics used to rank teams in international competitions. Clubs will be judged on their own records, while their historical success in the Champions League will also be taken into account in the coefficient calculations.
The financial distribution system will change for both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League competitions. A new four-pillar system will be introduced to ensure sporting performances are better rewarded and the market pool share will decrease.
The UEFA Champions League final is the world's most watched annual sporting event. The 2012/13 final achieved the highest TV ratings to date, drawing 360 million television viewers who saw Bayern Munich win their fifth title against Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Only time will tell whether an English Premier League club will win the UEFA Champions League - or perhaps Real Madrid will repeat last year's victory? Millions of viewers around the world will be tuning in on 26th May to find out.
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