The UEFA Champions League is an annual competition which is contested between a number of elite level clubs in Europe. It is governed by UEFA, with the winner of the competition crowned as the ‘Kings of Europe’. The winning side will also be entered into the Club World Cup.
The Champions League has been in existence since 1992, although it has previously gone under a number of different names. Originally, it was called the European Champions Clubs’ Cup, although it often abbreviated to ‘European Cup’. Teams involved in the inaugural European cup included Anderlecht, Djurgarden, Hibernian, Sporting CP, Stade Reims and Real Madrid. The latter emerged as the winners, beating Stade de Reims 4-3 at Parc des Prince. The Spanish side would go onto defend their title the following year.
Prior to 1992, the Champions League was only open to sides who had finished top of their respective division, however, following the rebranding and subsequent expansion, multiple entrants from each country were permitted to take part. Some divisions will have four or five representatives in the group stage.
Qualification for the UEFA Champions League begins in July with sides from smaller nations such as Macedonia, Albania, Lithuania and Georgia getting the chance to take part in the preliminary stages of the competition. Teams who enter in the first round must be successful in all three games (across the two legs), and a play-off contest in order to gain qualification for the group stage.
Clubs who miss out during qualification, or finish just outside the designated Champions League positions in their domestic league will be eligible to qualify for the Europa League.
The group stage consists of 32 teams, and these are drawn in eight groups. It is competed in round-robin format with the top two sides (after six games) going through to the knock-out rounds. These typically begin in February, as the competition takes a winter break. This benefits sides in countries such as Russia and Sweden who don’t play football during the first few months of the year.
Real Madrid are the most successful participants in the Champions League with 13 victories to their name. They were successful in the competition for five consecutive years between 1956 and 1960. They also won it in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Los Blancos have finished runners-up on three occasions as well.
Milan have won the competition seven times, whilst current holders Liverpool have been successful on six occasions. Other winners include Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Celtic, Porto and Steau Bucharest. Atletico Madrid are arguably the unluckiest side to have competed in the UEFA Champions League having finished as runners-up on three occasions. Stade de Reims, Fiorentina and Eintracht Frankfurt have also competed in the final.
Spain, Italy and England have tended to dominate in the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest scoring player to have featured in the competition. The Portuguese International has scored 126 times in 162 appearances, and that total is likely to increase as he will feature in the 2019 tournament for Juventus. Lionel Messi has notched 112 Champions League goals, and is the only other player to have surpassed a century of goals. Raul, Karim Benzema, Ruud Van Nistlerooy and Thierry Henry are also amongst the top scorers in the competition.
At the other end of the field, Iker Casillas is the top appearance maker in the Champions League. The iconic keeper has clocked up 177 appearances (not including the qualification stage), which is 15 more than the aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo. Xavi, Raul and Ryan Giggs all made more than 140 appearances in the competition.
The UEFA Champions League is hugely popular, and its appeal has grown significantly over the last few years. The Anthem is played in the stadium prior to each fixture, and it is an adaption of Handel’s 1727 anthem Zadok the Priest. This is a tradition which has been in existence since the rebranding in 1992.
Why is it so Popular?
The UEFA Champions League is hugely popular around the world with many countries in the southern hemisphere regularly tuning in to catch all of the action. North American nations also follow the competition in huge numbers.
It is incredibly popular as it throws together some of the world’s greatest sportsmen, and puts them on a single stage. The matches regularly feature dramatic climaxes, and shocks tend to be commonplace.
Iconic teams and household names make this competition once the most popular sporting events of the calendar year.
What Betting Opportunities are Available?
As it is one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar, the bookies are always keen to offer punters as many different markets as possible. As well as match-by-match markets, there are also a number of alternative ante-post betting options. Additional bets will become available once the groups have been drawn, and bettors can also enjoy wagering on the qualifying stages of the tournament as well.
Key Betting Markets
To Win the Champions League (Outright) – This is the main ante-post market available, and bettors can wager on this market prior to the tournament getting underway. The holders are usually priced up prominently in this market with multiple winners Real Madrid and Barcelona always amongst the frontrunners. In order to receive a pay-out, your chosen team must lift the trophy at the end of the final game.
To Reach the Final – Punters can back a side to reach the final of the Champions League. This allows a little bit of flexibility, with your chosen side only having to reach the showpiece event. If they make it to the final, it doesn’t matter if they get hammered, you will already have been paid out!
To Reach the Semi-Finals/Quarter-Finals – Same as above. Your chosen side will only need to reach the final four or the last eight in order to receive a payout. This is particularly handy when backing underdogs or unfancied sides.
Stage of Elimination – Most teams in the competition will be expected to reach a certain stage of the UEFA Champions League. The bookies will price this up accordingly. Sides can be backed to crash out in the group stage, the knock-out rounds or the quarter finals. This is a good market for backing bigger sides to underwhelm, and fail to meet their expectations.
Top Goalscorer – Although this market is often dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, it is a good market to utilise if you spot a striker who has the potential to be prolific in this competition. Ideally, players who represent sides that are expecting to make it into the final four are usually best to back in this market.
Match Winner (90 mins) – On a match-by-match market, there are lots of different bets available, although backing a side to win a game is by far the simplest. Your chosen team will need to be victorious in 90 minutes.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals – This is a great way of betting on the match without having to decide which side will be victorious. Players can bet on the number of goals that will feature in the contest. There are typically more high-scoring games during the second legs, although the odds often reflect this.
Both Teams to Score? Yes – Similar to above. Punters must decide whether both teams will find the back of the net in 90 minutes. Short prices are often the nature of the beast with this market, especially if it features two attack-minded teams.
Anytime Goalscorer – This market allows punters to decide which player will find the back of the net during the 90 minutes. If a team is heavily odds-on to win a game, it is strongly advised to look at player markets instead in order to extract some value. Players for the home side are typically shorter prices.
Bobby’s Big Betting Tips for the Champions League
Never Underestimate a Tough Away Trip – This is particularly key during the group stages of the competition. Fancied sides will sometimes face tricky visits to countries such as Greece, Turkey and Belarus, and these are never easy places to visit. Intimidating atmospheres, small-ish grounds and testing climates are all part of the reason why teams struggle in these sort of places, and this fact should not be ignored. If Real Madrid have to go to Olympiakos or Galatasaray, it is not a given that they will prevail, and the value can often lie with the home side.
High-Scoring Second Legs During the Knock-Out Rounds are Terrific Fun – First legs are typically cagey, and goals are often at a premimum. However second legs are often a lot more open, with late goals commonplace. Always make sure you know what outcomes would send a team through, and be aware of the away goals rule as well. These second legs are a terrific watch, and backing goals is the way to go.
Don’t Fall Foul of Already Qualified Sides – Some teams book their place in the knock-out rounds with a game to spare. However, this will often give the coach a chance to rotate his squad. With a busy festive period likely, injuries will start to catch up with teams, and some sides will send out a second string side for these dead rubbers. Don’t fall into the trap of backing them until you’ve seen team news.
Where Can I Watch the UEFA Champions League?