As a competition featuring a large number of teams from different countries, the format of the UEFA Champions League can, at first, seem a little bit complex.
Our easy-to-understand guide should help you get to grips with it, so you can enjoy the competition completely clued up.
As of 2015-16, there are four main phases in the Champions League:
- Qualifying Rounds
- Group Stage
- Knockout Stage
Every match in each Qualifying Round is played in two legs. The team with the highest aggregate score over the two matches progresses to the next round.
First Qualifying Round: Eight teams play in four games. These teams are champions of the leagues in countries ranked 47-54 by UEFA.
The four winners go through to the Second Qualifying Round.
Second Qualifying Round: 34 teams play in this round. The 30 champions from countries ranked 16-46 (except Liechtenstein) begin their Champions League campaigns here, joining the four winners of the previous round.
The 17 winners of this round move through to the Third Qualifying Round.
The Third Phase of qualifying is split into two parts:
Third Round – Champions: 20 teams (all champions of their own domestic leagues) take part in this round.
Three champions from countries ranked 13-15 join the 17 winners from the previous round. The 10 winners move on to the Play-Off Round of Champions.
Third Round – Non-champions: Nine runners-up from countries ranked seven to 15 and the third-placed team from the sixth-ranked country join the competition at this stage.
The five winners move on to the Play-Off Round (non-champions side of the draw).
The Play-Offs are also split into two parts:
Play-Off Round – Champions: The 10 winners from the Third Round’s Champions draw play each other in this round. The five winners from this round go through to the Group Stage.
Play-Off Round – Non-Champions: 10 teams play in this round. Two third-placed teams of leagues in countries ranked four and five, and three fourth-placed teams in countries ranked one to three by UEFA, join at this stage.
The Europa League winner and the five winners from the previous Round of Non-Champions also take part in this round. The five winners from this round go through to the Group Stage.
A total of 32 teams take part in the Group Stage. Teams are split into to eight groups of four (labelled A-G)
The 12 champions from countries ranked one to 12 enter in the Group Stage. They join six runners-up from countries ranked one to six, three third-placed clubs from countries one to three and the reigning Champions League winner.
The 10 winners from the Play-Offs also play in the Group Stage.
The top two teams from each group advance to the Knockout Phase.
The knockout phase involves four rounds:
The Round of 16: Played over two legs. The eight winners progress to the Quarter-Final.
Quarter-Final: Played over two legs. The four winners move through to the Semi-Final.
Semi-Final: Played over two legs. The two winners progress to the Final.
Final: The winners of this single match win the Champions League.