Champions League History
The European Cup, the forerunner to the Champions League, was the brainchild of French sports journalist Gabriel Hanot.
English league champions Wolverhampton Wanderers defeated Hungarian side Honved in a 1953 exhibition match, leading Wolves' manager to rather arrogantly dub his team the "champions of the world" in the next day's newspapers.
Hanot, editor of influential French sports newspaper L'Equipe, used this as the impetus to pitch his idea for a continental-wide tournament featuring the best European clubs. UEFA, European soccer's governing body, approved Hanot's idea in April 1955 and the European Cup began in 1955-56 featuring league champions across Europe
In 1993, the European Cup was re-christened the Champions League, and in 1997-98 the tournament was expanded to include more teams, not just league champions.
After a long summer break, 32 of the best soccer teams from across Europe begin their quest to be crowned continental kings when the group stage of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League kicks off this week.
Defending champions FC Barcelona, nine-time tournament winners Real Madrid, English powerhouse Manchester United, Italian giants AC Milan and a host of usual suspects will all be trying to survive the opening round and progress through the knockout stage in order to earn a spot in the final next May at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
Last season, Barcelona won its fourth crown in team history. Can they repeat as champions?
CBC Sports commentator Nigel Reed offers this analysis and predictions below for Groups A, B, C and D.
To read about Groups E, F, G and H, click here.
Group A: Bayern Munich (Germany), Manchester City (England), Napoli (Italy), Villarreal (Spain)
Nigel Reed: Let’s not beat about the bush: this is the Group of Death and everyone knows it. Manchester City and Napoli may be Champions League newcomers but, despite their lack of European experience, both expect to feature strongly and advance to the round of 16.
Bayern Munich, in particular, and Villarreal are regular competitors at this level but unlike previous campaigns there are no guarantees either or both will survive the group stages. The Germans now have World Cup goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in their ranks and he’ll need to be at his best.
Man City is taking the short cut to success. Their huge spending power has brought in Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri to join a multinational, multi-talented roster. If manager Roberto Mancini can keep them all happy, the Blues have enough depth and firepower to go deep into the competition.
Edinson Cavani was Serie A’s second top marksman last season. The Uruguayan striker turned Napoli into a contender and his predatory instincts will be crucial to the Italian cause. Giuseppe Rossi, who notched up 32 goals in all competitions last term, is equally important to Villarreal but the Yellow submarine could be out of its depth.
Prediction: 1) Manchester City, 2) Bayern Munich, 3) Napoli, 4) Villarreal
The 32-team field is divided into eight round-robin groups. Teams play three games at home and on the road with three points for a win and one for a tie. The top two teams in each group at the end of the group stage advance to the next round.
After the first round, the tournament takes on a single-elimination format. The remaining 16 teams are paired off and play a home-and-away playoff. If the teams each win a game, the overall score over the course of the two games acts as the tiebreaker, followed by goals scored on the road. If the teams are still tied, a penalty shootout solves the issue.
This two-game playoff format carries over into the quarter-finals and semifinals before the last two teams standing meet in the final on May 19 in Munich.
Group B: CSKA Moscow (Russia), Inter Milan (Italy), Lille (France), Trabzonspor (Turkey)
Reed: Inter are no longer European or even Italian champions, but the outgoing World club champions are clearly the class of Group B and should top the section with something to spare. That said Inter were poor on the road last season and trips to Russia and Turkey are not for the faint hearted.
Inter are onto their fourth coach in just over a year so Gian Piero Gasperini has plenty to prove in his first season at the helm. His cause is not helped by the loss of the prolific Samuel Eto’o but the arrivals of Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate will help fill the void. The continuing presence of Wesley Sneijder will keep the Nerazzurri moving in the right direction.
Russian League leaders CSKA and French champions Lille will dispute the runners-up spot. Visitors don’t get much change out of Moscow’s artificial playing surface while Lille will be keen to follow in the recent footsteps of Lyon and Bordeaux in proving French football is better than you think.
Trabzonspor have already been eliminated from the competition but were reinstated after Turkish champions Fenerbahce were thrown out in the wake of a match fixing scandal. It’s a second chance for a club which has never survived beyond the tournament’s first round. Don’t expect that to change in the course of the next three months.
Prediction: 1) Inter Milan, 2) CSKA Moscow, 3) Lille, 4) Trabzonspor
- 2011 - FC Barcelona (Spain)
- 2010 - Inter Milan (Italy)
- 2009 - FC Barcelona (Spain)
- 2008 - Manchester United
- 2007 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 2006 - FC Barcelona (Spain)
- 2005 - Liverpool (England)
- 2004 - FC Porto (Portugal)
- 2003 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 2002 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 2001 - Bayern Munich (Germany)
- 2000 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1999 - Manchester United (England)
- 1998 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1997 - Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
- 1996 - Juventus (Italy)
- 1995 - Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
- 1994 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 1993 - Olympique Marseille (France)
- European Cup becomes Champions League in 1993
- 1992 - FC Barcelona (Spain)
- 1991 - Red Star Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
- 1990 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 1989 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 1988 - PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
- 1987 - FC Porto (Portugal)
- 1986 - Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
- 1985 - Juventus (Italy)
- 1984 - Liverpool (England)
- 1983 - Hamburger SV (Germany)
- 1982 - Aston Villa (England)
- 1981 - Liverpool (England)
- 1980 - Nottingham Forest (England)
- 1979 - Nottingham Forest (England)
- 1978 - Liverpool (England)
- 1977 - Liverpool (England)
- 1976 - Bayern Munich (Germany)
- 1975 - Bayern Munich (Germany)
- 1974 - Bayern Munich (Germany)
- 1973 - Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
- 1972 - Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
- 1971 - Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
- 1970 - Feyenoord (Netherlands)
- 1969 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 1968 - Manchester United (England)
- 1967 - Celtic (Scotland)
- 1966 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1965 - Inter Milan (Italy)
- 1964 - Inter Milan (Italy)
- 1963 - AC Milan (Italy)
- 1962 - Benfica (Portugal)
- 1961 - Benfica (Portugal)
- 1960 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1959 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1958 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1957 - Real Madrid (Spain)
- 1956 - Real Madrid (Spain)
Group C: FC Basel (Switzerland), Benfica (Portugal), Manchester United (England), Otelul Galati (Romania)
Reed: Not even Sir Alex Ferguson could find reason to complain about this draw. Manchester United is in a class of its own and will comfortably win Group C. The race for the runners-up spot, meanwhile, could be an altogether more interesting storyline to follow.
United’s pedigree and experience cannot be questioned and Ferguson will take the opportunity to give fringe players time on the field before the serious business begins in the New Year. The English champions are not only formidable opponents at Old Trafford, they also boast an 18-month unbeaten record away from home in the Champions League.
The question, then, becomes who finishes second? For my money it is a straight fight between Swiss champions Basel and Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. Otelul, by the way, won the Romanian title to clinch a Champions League berth for the first time. Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.
More importantly I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Swiss youngsters who finished runners-up to Spain at this summer’s Euro U-21 Championship. Xherdan Shaqiri is still only 19 but if he stays grounded he has all the talent to become a major star. Yann Sommer is one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe but Basel will have to improve on home soil to pip Benfica.
Prediction: 1) Manchester United, 2) FC Basel, 3) Benfica, 4) Otelul Galati
Group D: Ajax (Netherlands), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Lyon (France), Real Madrid (Spain)
Reed: With a full season under his belt in the Spanish capital, it is time for The Special One to deliver. After years of underachievement, Jose Mourinho guided Real Madrid effortlessly to the semifinals last season, only to come up against Barcelona, who play in a league of their own.
Real will top this section, of course. Its stable of stars, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and Kaka will canter into the knockout stages leaving its rivals trailing in the dust. World Cup winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas will not exactly be overworked in the early going.
Lyon is the team most likely to hang on to Madrid’s coat tails. The Frenchmen were semifinalists the season before last but they’ll have to make do, temporarily, without striker Lisandro who is currently rehabbing from an ankle injury, so goals could be in short supply.
A Brazilian has inspired Dinamo Zagreb’s return to Europe’s elite. Sammir’s goals helped the Croatian champions through six qualifying matches and a treasured berth in the Champions League proper. Ajax has a glittering history but a less than stellar present. The top Dutch players simply don’t play in Holland and it’s tough to see them surviving the round robin phase.
Prediction: 1) Real Madrid, 2) Lyon, 3) Ajax, 4) Dinamo Zagreb