The Champions League is an annual football competition exclusively for the top clubs in the major European Leagues. It is controlled by Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and only clubs who are at the top of their respective footballing leagues qualify for entry. The competition is highly prestigious and fiercely fought over by Europe’s leading teams. The major footballing nations contribute both their respective league champions and in some cases one or more runners up. So popular in fact is the UEFA Champions League final that in 2013 it attracted an astonishing worldwide television audience of 360 million.
Prior to 1992 the Champions League was known as the European Champion Clubs' Cup which was often abbreviated simply to the European Cup which had run continuously since 1955. Before being restructured in 1992, the European Cup was a straight knockout competition which was open only to the champions of each European country. However, after 1992 with a dramatic new structure the competition introduced a group stage which proved to be hugely popular with fans.
From the 2015-16 season onwards the weaker European teams will still only be able to enter the championship winning team whilst the strongest European footballing nations will be able to enter up to five teams. Teams that fail to qualify for the UEFA Champions League are eligible to enter European competition via the UEFA Europa League which, while not as prestigious as the Champions League, is still highly prized by mid table teams.
The UEFA Champions League starts in July with a series of knock out rounds with the reward entry to the main competition for the victors. The remaining 10 teams join the 22 other teams who qualified directly and these 32 teams are drawn into a series of 8 groups with 4 teams in each. The teams play each other twice with the top 2 teams progressing to the knockout stages and the third placed team entering the UEFA Europa League. The final is played in late May and the winner of the UEFA Champions League qualifies for both the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The competition has a rich history and regular Spanish champions Real Madrid have been the most successful club in the competitions history, having won the prestigious competition ten times. In fact, Spanish teams have won the coveted title of European Champion 15 times whilst England and Italy share second place with 12 title each.