The UEFA Champions League is known simply as the Champions League. It is an annual continental club football competition organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) since 1955 for the top football clubs in Europe. It is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and the most prestigious club competition in European football.
Prior to 1992/93 season, the tournament was officially called the "European Champion Clubs' Cup", but was usually referred to simply as the "European Cup". The competition was initially a straight knockout competition open only to the champion club of each country. During the 1990s, the tournament began to be expanded, incorporating a round-robin group phase and more teams. Europe's strongest national leagues currently provide up to four teams each for the competition.
The other UEFA club football competition is the UEFA Europa League, formerly known as the UEFA Cup.
The UEFA Champions League consists of several stages. In the present format, it begins in mid-July with 3 knockout qualifying rounds and a play-off round. The 10 surviving teams join 22 seeded teams in the group stage, in which there are 8 groups of 4 teams each. The 8 group winners and 8 runners-up enter the final knockout phase, which culminates with the final match in May. The winner of the UEFA Champions League qualifies for the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Real Madrid is the most successful club in the competition's history, having won the tournament 9 times, including the first 5 seasons it was contested. Spanish clubs have accumulated the highest number of victories, with 14 wins, followed by England and Italy with 12 each. The title has been won by 22 different clubs, 12 of which have won the title more than once. Since the tournament changed name and structure in 1992/93, no club has managed consecutive wins, with AC Milan being the last club to successfully defend their title, in 1989/90.
‡ The 8 groups was followed by a 4 groups stage