The top clubs in Europe play in the Champions League. For its clubs to be eligible, a football association must be a member of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), but how do teams qualify?
Qualification is based on a point system upon which each member association is ranked. This in turn is based on the performance of clubs in the two pan-European club competitions (Champions League and Europa League) over the previous five seasons.
The number of clubs that a country can enter in the Champions League depends on the UEFA ranking of its football association.
Clubs in countries ranked 1-3
The top three countries can enter four clubs in the competition. These clubs must finish in the top four places in the league table the season before.
The top three teams in each of these countries go through automatically to the Champions League Group stage. The fourth-placed team must enter the competition through a preliminary three-round qualifying stage.
Clubs in countries ranked 4-6
Countries ranked four to six by UEFA can each enter three teams in the Champions League. The top two qualify automatically for the Group stage, and the third-placed team must enter the competition via three preliminary qualifying rounds.
Clubs in countries ranked 7-12
Those ranked seven to 12 by UEFA can enter two teams in the Champions League. The champions of these leagues go through to the Group stage automatically. The runners-up have to qualify for the competition proper via the three qualifying rounds.
Clubs in countries ranked 13-15 and below
Countries ranked 13-15 can also enter two teams into the Champions League. However, both of these teams must enter via the qualifiers. Teams ranked 16 and below can enter only their league champions into the competition via the qualifiers.
The reigning Champions League winners have the right to defend their title regardless of whether they finished in a qualifying league position during the previous season.
If the winners don’t finish in a qualifying position (as in the case of Liverpool in 2005), they enter the competition in place of the team that would otherwise take the last Champions League place. In the case of the Premier League, an English winner would take the place of the team in fourth position.
Europa League winners
The club wins that the Europa League qualifies for the Champions League Play-Off Round. As a result, in 2015-16, Spain entered five teams into the competition after Sevilla won the Europa League in 2014-15.
The Europa League winners may go straight through to the Group Stage if the Champions League winners are in the same domestic league and take one of the allotted Champions League places in the table.
Number of clubs in the competition
Including the qualifying rounds, 78 or 79 teams in total can take part in the Champions League each year. 32 teams take part in the Group Stage.
Since the Champions League commands such a lot of respect around the world, qualification is something all teams in Europe aspire to.
With a strict system to work through, the best chance a team has is to rank highly in their domestic league, giving them a shot of making it into this prestigious tournament.