Many bettors shy away from great tournaments like the UEFA Champions League because they simply don’t understand some of the intricacies of this renowned competition. Let’s try to simplify it.
A healthy percentage of sports gamblers have never gravitated toward soccer because they either find the sport too boring with not enough scoring; don’t understand soccer odds or don’t like the idea of betting on a three-way line and having an unsatisfying Draw being a potential; or simply don’t understand the qualification and makeup of the different tournaments which are all held during the playing of the specific clubs national league seasons.
In the major professional leagues in the United States like the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, once play in each league begins, players and teams almost always play in that league from the date it starts until the date it ends. In Europe and soccer leagues in the majority of all other countries, when a league begins—say for example the English Premier League—teams (clubs) in that league also participate in a number of other tournaments for which they’ve qualified.
For example, defending EPL champions Manchester City are not only playing in England’s national English Premier League, but the Citizens also participated in the FA Community Shield (EPL champions vs. FA Cup champions, Arsenal); the Capital One (Football League) Cup; the FA Cup; and are still playing in the prestigious UEFA Champions League (which we are going to talk about here) where they will welcome Lionel Messi and Barcelona to the Etihad Stadium on Feb. 24 for Leg 1. So, for an American or someone used to a sport which solely plays games in its own league once its season has begun, watching, betting and understanding soccer can at times be pretty confusing if you don’t understand in what event the teams are actually playing.
And whatever you do, be very careful uttering the word “soccer” to a fire-breathing European or South American football/soccer fan who may feel the need to correct you or whomever by snapping back with the word “football” because he or she can’t quite grasp the concept that the United States has an incredibly popular sport it happens to already call football. There’s always something to be outraged by these days, brother. The real irony comes in the fact that the word “soccer” was actually invented by those good old British back in the 19th Century “from a shortening of Association football + an extended use of -er” So, if a truck can be called a lorry, then football can definitely be called soccer. Or football if you prefer. We should all simmer down some when it comes to language and words. Different cultures have different words and The Wise and The Calm get the nuance.
Who Gets To Play in the Champions League and How Do The Qualify?
There are a current total of 54 countries (association members) on the continent of Europe that have league systems which can send representatives to the annual UEFA Champions League tournament. The landlocked German-speaking microstate/principality Liechtenstein doesn’t have a league system and therefore doesn’t send a representative. UEFA stands for the Union of European Football Associations and UEFA is one of six continental confederations (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America and the Caribbean, Oceania and South America) under soccer’s world governing body, FIFA.
Run by UEFA, the Champions League is an annual tournament—which runs almost the entire calendar year—whose championship game (final) is almost always the most-watched sporting event worldwide. The final of the tournament in 2012-13 was the highest viewed event in the world, garnering over 360 million TV viewers. By contrast, the NFL’s Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks—the most-watched telecast in American history—held Feb. 1, 2015, attracted a record 114.4 million viewers in the United States.
The Champions League was introduced to the sports world in 1992, replacing the European Champion Clubs Cup which had been played since 1955. The new-look tourney began to allow multiple entrants from each European country—before that (1992), only champions from each country participated—and decided to add a Group Stage. The Champions League evolved even more in the 1990’s, bringing in a Round Robin group stage and adding even more teams.
Currently, there are three European leagues whose first four-placed teams all qualify now for the tournament: the England’s Premier League, Germany’s Fußball-Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga. And there are presently three other nation who send their first three league finishers to the Champions League: Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and the Portuguese Primeira Liga. And, starting next season (2015/2016), some nations may be getting 5 berths for this lucrative tournament.
Actual play in the Champions League for many of the smaller European nations begins in mid-July with three Knockout Qualifying rounds and a Playoff Round. The 10 clubs that survive that particular low-profile phase then enter the famous Group Stage, in which the 22 teams that qualified in advance await. Many consider this Group Stage when the Champions League begins proper and that is often when many sports bettors actually do begin to wager on this specific tournament as all of the teams with no chance to actually become European champions and many clubs some are unfamiliar with have all been weeded out.
The Group and Knockout Stages
The 32 teams are then seeded and divided into eight groups (A-H), with clubs from the same country not placed in groups together. This Group Stage is comprised of 13 league champions from Associations 1-13; 6 Runners-Up from Associations 1-6; 3 Third-Place teams from Associations 1-3; and, the 5 winners from the preceding Playoff Rounds for both Champions and Non-Champions. These teams then play each of the other three teams in their individual groups both at Home and Away in a double Round-Robin format.
For example, aforementioned Manchester City was in Group E this season in the already completed Group Stage along with Germany’s Bayern Munich, Italy’s AS Roma and Russia’s CSKA Moscow, and the Citizens finished second in the group with 8 points (2-2-2) to become one of the two teams (second place) to advance from that specific group. So, two teams from those eight groups (16 total) then advance on to the Knockout Stage, where this year’s version of the tournament currently sits with play resuming next Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 17/18) between the eight Group Stage winners and eight Group Stage runners-up.
The 16 teams still alive and their opponents in the Knockout Stage (Round of 16) in the UEFA Champions League this year are: Paris Saint-Germain-Chelsea; Manchester City-Barcelona; Bayer Leverkusen-Atlético Madrid; Juventus-Borussia Dortmund; FC Schalke 04-Real Madrid (defending champions); Shakhtar Donetsk-Bayern Munich; Arsenal-AS Monaco, and FC Basel-FC Porto.
And from this point on (Knockout Stage) in the tournament, teams will be again playing opponents once at Home and once Away, with the winners advancing until the Final match (16-8-4-2)—this year at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany on Saturday, June 5 (FOX, 2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT)—where just one big match (at a predetermined site) then determines the tournament’s winner. Truly sports at its finest.
For the new fan, this can all definitely be quite confusing. But like anything else in Life, the more one watches, enjoys and bets on UEFA Champions League, the easier it becomes to understand. Despite the many layers, this great soccer tournament—which probably has the greatest anthem in all of sports—is certainly not Brain Surgery. In the Qualifying and Playoff stages when the clubs play each other twice on a home-and-away basis, it can be a bit confusing when Away Goals are involved, but usually the team with the higher number of aggregate goals advances. Should the two teams actually end up with the same number of goals after two legs and the Away Goals not being able to determine a winner (For example: Manchester City wins Leg 1 at Home 2-1 then loses Leg 2 at Barcelona 1-2 (3-3 aggregate, 1 Away goal each), then a Penalty Kick Shootout would take place at the end of Extra Time (if both teams are still level) in that Leg 2.) It’s possibly a real cruel way to determine a winner and who advances in a tournament, but shootouts are always entertaining. Always. Anyone who saw the AFCON final on Sunday between Ghana and eventual winner Ivory Coast know this. It was so drama-filled that Les Éléphants striker Gervinho couldn’t even bear to watch its ending, choosing instead to sit on the ground behind the far end of the dugout with his back turned to the action.
A couple of cool changes the UEFA are being implemented in this 2015-2018 cycle, including that the winners of the UEFA Europa League—which we’ll talk about in a separate article—are now granted access to the Champions League tournament—a sweet little perk for winning the Champions League’s little sister’s tourney.
And, “as an effect of the UEFA Europa League winners qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, the current limit of a maximum four teams per association will be increased to five.” So, if a country like England or Spain or Germany that has already has four automatic berths ends up winning the Champion League, then the fifth place team in that nation’s league can now qualify for the Champions League. Now that’s progress. And a nice little financial boon to that lucky league should it actually end up happening.