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UEFA Champions Leauge

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The UEFA Champions League (also known as the European Cup) is a seasonal club football competition organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) since 1955 for the most successful football clubs in Europe. The prize, the European Champion Clubs' Cup, is considered the most prestigious club trophy in the sport.

The UEFA Champions League is separate from the less prestigious UEFA Cup and the defunct Cup Winners' Cup.

The tournament consists of several stages and begins with three preliminary knockout qualifying rounds. The sixteen teams emerging from the preliminary rounds take part in the final knock-out stage, which starts in late February and ends with the final match in May.

The current holders of the UEFA Champions League trophy are A.C. Milan, who beat Liverpool F.C. 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece on 23 May 2007.

Moscow will host its first European Cup final for the 2007-08 season.

History
The tournament was inaugurated in 1955, at the suggestion of the French sports journalist and editor of L'Équipe Gabriel Hanot, as a continental competition for winners of the European national football leagues, as the European Champion Clubs' Cup, abbreviated to European Cup.

The competition began in 1955/56 using a two-leg knockout format where the teams would play two matches, one at home and one away, and the team with the highest overall score qualifying for the next round of the competition. Entry was restricted to the teams that won their national league championships, plus the current European Cup holder. This qualification system continued until 1992. In the 1992/93 season, the tournament was renamed to UEFA Champions League and eligibility was expanded to include not just domestic champions but also the best performing runners up according to UEFA's coefficient ranking list. In UEFA's coefficient system, a team finishing second in the Spanish La Liga would be more deserving of an automatic place in the Champions League than a team finishing first in, for example, Polish Orange Ekstraklasa. As a result, the system was restructured to force "weaker" national champions to qualify for the group stages, while other, "stronger" national runners-up would automatically get places.

The competition system has been undergoing changes since the 1991/92 season. The current system was adopted in 2003.

Between 1960 and 2004 the winner of the tournament qualified for the now defunct Intercontinental Cup (against the winner of the Copa Libertadores of South America). Since then, with FIFA taking over, the winner automatically qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup with other winners of continental club championships.

The Stages
The tournament consists of several stages and begins with three preliminary knockout qualifying rounds. Different teams start in different rounds, according to their position in domestic league and the UEFA coefficients of their league, while the sixteen top ranked teams spread across the biggest domestic leagues qualify directly.

In the subsequent preliminary round, participating teams are paired, with aggregate winners proceeding into the next round. Qualifying rounds span from mid-July to late August. The losers of the third qualifying round are transferred to the UEFA Cup, while the sixteen winners of the final qualifying round are joined by the sixteen teams who have qualified directly, to participate in the group stage.

Teams are drawn into eight groups of four teams, each team playing every other team in the group twice (home and away). The group stage is played between mid-September and early December. The teams finishing third in their groups are transferred to the UEFA Cup, while the top two teams from every group qualify for the next round. Here the sixteen remaining teams take part in the knock-out stage, which starts in late February and ends with the final match in May.

All qualifying rounds and knock-out ties are two-legged, with each team hosting one match. The team which scores the greater aggregate number of goals qualifies for the next round. The away goals rule applies. Extra time and penalty kicks are used to determine the winner, if necessary. An exception is the final, which is a single match played at a predetermined venue.

The draws are currently structured to ensure that clubs representing the same national association cannot play each other until the quarter-finals. In addition, seeding of the teams according to their UEFA coefficients is used. The competition system has been undergoing changes since the 1991/92 season (see history). The current system was adopted in 2003.

Champions League finals
The Champions League final is the most important match of the season in European club football. The stadium to host the final is selected by UEFA two years before the match.

The winning club gets possession of the trophy at the awards ceremony, but must return it to UEFA headquarters two months before the following year's final. UEFA gives the winners a scaled-down replica of the trophy to keep permanently, and winning clubs are free to make replicas of the trophy as long as they are clearly marked as replicas and are no larger than 80% of the size of the actual trophy. However, the current competition rules also specify that the actual trophy will be permanently awarded to a team that wins three consecutive years or five times in all.

Five clubs have been awarded the UEFA badge of honour and the right to keep the trophy permanently:

Real Madrid, who won the first five competitions from 1956 to 1960, and again in 1966, 1998, 2000 and 2002.
Ajax Amsterdam, who won consecutively in 1971–1973,and again in 1995
Bayern Munich, who won consecutively in 1974–1976, and again in 2001
AC Milan, who won for the fifth time in 1994, and again in 2003 and 2007
Liverpool, whose 2005 win was their fifth overall.
The first European Cup/UEFA Champions League final to be competed between two clubs from the same country was in 2000, when Spanish giants Real Madrid and Valencia reached the final. This was followed in 2003 when Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus FC reached the final, making it only two intra-national finals since its inception in 1955.

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