The Champions League Starts Up Again Tuesday

Less than a month after Real Madrid won the Champions League, the tournament is already back in gear.

Suffering from Champions League withdrawal?

It’s been less than a month since Real Madrid thrashed Juventus to claim the crown of top club in Europe, but teams are about to begin the quest to take away that crown.

The first qualifying round for the world’s premier club competition (go away, FIFA Club World Cup, no one cares about you) begins Tuesday and Wednesday. 

While most don’t pay attention to UCL qualifying until the playoff round (looking at you this year, Liverpool fans), these matches are worth following because they will affect qualifying for clubs that have shown they can advance from the early stages to deep runs in the tournament. 

APOEL FC, which joined qualification process in the second round, reached the UCL quarterfinals five years ago. Last year, Monaco, which came in during the third round, reached the semifinals. 

Here is a round-by-round look at how clubs from across Europe advance through the Champions League, starting Tuesday. 

The final will be held in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 26. 

First Qualifying Round

Dates: June 27-8 (first leg), July 4-5 (second leg)

Teams: 10

Process: The champions from the 10 lowest-ranked associations (46-55) based on the UEFA club coefficients face off in home-and-away series, with the five winners advancing.  

2017 Draw: Víkingur (Faroe Islands) vs. Trepça ’89 (Kosovo); Hibernians (Malta) vs. FCI Tallinn (Estonia); Alaskhert (Armenia) vs. FC Santa Coloma (Andorra); The New Saints (Wales) vs. Europa (Gibraltar); Linfield (Northern Ireland) vs. La Fiorita (San Marino). 

Games to watch: The New Saints was the first soccer club to follow the magnificent Sam Klomhaus on Twitter, so you’ll want to see what they can do against Europa FC, a club from a Gibraltar, a nation with a population less than the average attendance of a Red Sox game. 

 

Second Qualifying Round

Dates: July 11-12 (first leg), July 18-19 (second leg)

Teams: 29 new, 5 from First Round

Process: The five surviving teams from the first round are joined by the champions from the next 29 leagues (16-45, not including Liechtenstein). They’re paired off and compete in home-and-away series. 

2017 Draw: APOEL (Cypress) vs. Dudelange (Luxembourg); Žalgiris (Lithuania) vs. Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria); Qarabağ (Azerbaijan) vs. Samtredia (Georgia); Partizan (Serbia) vs. Budućnost Podgorica (Montenegro); Hibernians or FCI Tallinn vs. Salzburg (Austria); Sheriff (Moldova) vs. Kukës (Albania); Astana (Kazahkstan) vs. Spartaks Jūrmala (Latvia); BATE Borisov (Belarus) vs. Alashkert or FC Santa Coloma; Žilina (Slovakia) vs. København (Denmark); Hapoel Beer-Sheva (Israel) vs. Budapest Honvéd (Hungary);  Rijeka (Croatia) vs. The New Saints or Europa; Malmö (Sweden) vs. Vardar (Macedonia); Zrinjski (Bosnia and Herzegovina) vs. Maribor (Slovenia); Dundalk (Ireland) vs. Rosenborg (Norway); FH Hafnarfjördur (Iceland) vs. Víkingur or Trepça '89; Linfield or La Fiorita vs. Celtic (Scotland); IFK Mariehamn (Finland) vs. Legia Warszawa (Poland).

Games to watch: Partizan vs. Podgorica is the standout pairing, if only to see Serbia and Montenegro compete against each other. Any game involving Celtic is likely to garner interest as well.

APOEL FC

APOEL FC lost to Real Madrid in the 2012 UCL quarterfinals. Photo: @24sports | Twitter

Third Qualifying Round

Dates: July 25-26 (first leg), August 1-2 (second leg)

Teams: 13 new, 17 from Second Round

Process: In the third round, teams are divided between the champions route and the league route. League winners (champions) consist of everyone from the first and second round plus the champions from the leagues ranked 13-15, making for 20 teams. The league route includes the runners-up from leagues ranked 7-15 and the third-place team from the 6th-ranked league, making for 10 teams. The teams will again be divided into pairs (on July 14) to advance to the playoff round.

2017 Teams: Champions Route: Slavia Prague (Czech Republic), Olympiacos (Greece), Viitorul Constanta (Romania). League Route: Nice (Franec), CSKA Moscow (Russia), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Club Brugge (Belgium), Ajax (Netherlands), İstanbul Başakşehir (Turkey), Young Boys (Switzerland), Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic), AEK Athens (Greece), Steaua Bucuresti (Romania).  

Games to watch: Notable teams entering during this round include Ajax, CSKA Moscow and Dynamo Kyiv. 

 

Playoff Round

Dates: August 15-16 (first leg), August 22-23 (second leg)

Teams: 5 new, 15 from Third Round

Process: The two third-place teams from leagues 4-5 and the three fourth-place teams from leagues 1-3 join the five remaining teams in the league route while the champions route remains unamended. Again the clubs are divided up to play home-and-away series, with five each from the champions route and league route earning berths into the group stage.

2017 Teams: Sevilla (Spain), 1899 Hoffenheim (Germany), Liverpool (England), Napoli (Italy), Sporting CP (Portugal). 

Teams to Watch: Liverpool is back in the Champions League while 1899 Hoffenheim is in the Champions League for the first time following a meteoric rise. Hoffenheim was in the third division when Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League. 

UCL Draw

Champions League draw. Photo: @24sports | Twitter


Group Stage

Dates: September 12-December 6.

Teams: 22 new, 10 from Playoff Round

Process: The five champions route and five league route qualifiers join the champions from leagues 1-12, six runners-up from leagues 1-6, three third-place teams from leagues 1-3 and the Europa League champion to be divided into eight groups of four. Note: If the Champions League winners are not already qualified, they also earn a spot in this round. The top two in each advance to the Round of 16 while the third-place team in each group parachutes into the Europa League for the knock-out stages.

2017 Teams: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid (Spain); Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund (Germany); Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City (England); Juventus, Roma (Italy); Benfica, Porto (Portugal); Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Spartak Moscow (Russia); Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine); Anderlecht (Belgium); Feyenoord (Netherlands); Beşiktaş (Turkey); Basel (Switzerland); Manchester United (England, Europa League winner). 

Teams to Watch: All of them. This is the point where Champions League becomes appointment viewing. Start calling in sick on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when this round kicks off. 

 

Round of 16

Dates: February 13-March 14

Teams: 16 from Group Stage

Process: The group winners are paired against the group runners-up to begin the knock-out stages, with home-and-away fixtures determining who advances.

 

Quarterfinals

Dates: April 3-11

Teams: 8 from Round of 16

Process: Home-and-away legs determine the semifinalists.

Semifinals

Dates: April 24-May 2

Teams: 4 from Quarterfinals

Process: Home-and-away legs again determine who advances to the final.

Final

Date: May 26

Process: The semifinal winners meet at NSK Olimpiyski in Kiev, Ukraine, in a one-match final. 

Notes: Liechtenstein does not have a national league as all seven of its clubs compete in the Swiss system. The country does have a cup, with the winners given a spot in the Europa League. … Kosovo is the newest association allowed in the Champions League qualification process, joining UEFA last season. … Spain is comfortably in front of the club coefficients with 105.0 points, followed by Germany (79.5), England (76.0), Italy (73.3), France (56.7), Russia (50.5) and Portugal (49.3). 

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