By Neil Leverett

  • 26th edition of the UEFA Champions League commences on Tuesday
  • 32 teams will compete in Eight groups with top two qualifying through to last 16
  • 2017/18 final will take place at the Olympiyskiy National Sports Complex in Kiev, Ukraine on 26 May
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – All you need to know ahead of Matchday 1 in the 26th UEFA Champions League competition.

 

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Just over three months after Real Madrid lifted their 12th Champions League title in Cardiff back in June, the biggest prize in European – and arguably world –  club football commences for the 26th time this week. So what’s the fuss about?

 

Re-brand in early Nineties

Formerly known as the European Cup, the competition was re-branded in 1992, where UEFA’s commercial partner Television Event and Media Marketing (TEAM), helped re-shape the Champions League. This resulted in the anthem, “house colours” of black and white or silver and a logo, and the “starball”. The starball was created by Design Bridge, a London-based firm selected by TEAM after a competition. 

Olympique de Marseille became the newly-named tournament’s first winners, beating AC Milan 1-0, courtesy of a goal from Basile Boli. That year was also the only time the French club have won it.

The 1992/93 edition was known as the Champions League, but only during the group stages before the knockout stages reverted to being the European Cup proper.

Later that decade, the Champions League banner was extended to the entirety of the competition, when the original group stages comprised of 16 teams in just four groups. The top two progressed to the quarter-finals, in a much shortened and elite version with just the winners of of each countries’ domestic leagues taking part.

 

Current format

That format has today been greatly modified. The top three leagues across Europe with the highest points co-efficient tally hold four qualifying berths. Co-efficient is calculated by the performances of the collective qualifiers of each football association and is a running tally.

For example this season, La Liga in Spain, the Premier League in England and Germany’s Bundesliga all had four teams before the play-off round last month. Whilst Spain retained their four teams, German side Hoffenheim were knocked out by Liverpool, 6-3 on aggregate.

Of the 32 teams competing this year – aside from the main leagues across the continent – teams from Russia, Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Scotland, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia and Azerbaijan will vie for a top two spot.

The last 16 will then take place from February next year, with two-legged knockout ties until the final. The winners each year play the victors from the Europa League in the UEFA Super Cup during the early weeks of the following season. Winners also qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup taking place at the end of the calendar year, comprising the winners of other continents’ club winners.

Teams finishing in third place will automatically qualify for the last 32 knockout stages of second-tier competition the Europa League, which runs in tandem alongside it on Thursday evenings throughout the season.

In a first for English football this season, there will be five teams across the eight groups from the Premier League, after Manchester United won that competition last term, automatically qualifying for the group stages – a measure brought in two seasons ago. United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur will represent the English league.

 

Real Madrid hold most wins

The winners of last year’s competition also have the most tournament wins to their name, with Madrid having taken home the trophy on 12 occasions. Their closest rivals are 1993’s losing finalists, Milan with seven wins. Los Blancos won the European Cup for the first five years of its existence between 1956 and 1960.

The Spaniards won once more in 1966, before a barren spell of 30+ years but have now won the lifted the trophy in its current incarnation six times – five since the turn of the millennium and three times during the last four years.

The Spanish side now managed by former winner Zinedine Zidane, made history last year as the first club to successfully defend their Champions League crown and are regarded as favourites this time around to record a winning triple.

Juventus hold the rather unenviable record of most losing finals, with seven defeats including back-to-back losses in 1997 and 1998. The Bianconeri however, have won the tournament twice in 1985 and 1996.

 

Player stats

The top two leading scorers in the competition are still playing today and arguably at the top of their game. Cristiano Ronaldo has 105 goals in 140 appearances and is being closely pursued by Lionel Messi on 94.

Other notable names in the top 10 list include Raul Gonzalez, Alfredo di Stefano, Andriy Shevchenko and Thierry Henry.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas hold the all-time appearance record currently with 164 games, and will add to that this season. Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez sits in second spot with 151 appearances.

 

Anthem

The now recognisable opening ditty for Champions League games official titled ‘Champions League’ is written by the Royal College of Music’s Tony Britten, and is an adaptation of Handel’s Zadok The Priest.

UEFA commissioned Britten to arrange an anthem for the organisation’s flagship competition, which was performed by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The chorus contains three official languages in English, German, and French.

Matchday 1 of 2017/18 UEFA Champions League takes place on Tuesday September 12 and Wednesday September 13th.

Main Image: Photo by VALENTIN FLAURAUD/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

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