Teams come from far and wide, all seeking to claim eternal glory. Every year, come spring, the best-of-the-best seek to advance in the tournament. All the players have earned the right to compete and each team wants to claim the title of the undisputed champion across the leagues. The madness is watched by millions and everyone has their pick on who should win the top prize. Sound familiar?
If you said the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, you are right. This year has not let us down. We have seen the surge of upsets and the Cinderella teams like Loyola Chicago advance all the way through as an 11 seed. Yes, you read that correctly, an 11 seed.
What if I told you there is another tournament that has all that excitement, and more?
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Also known as the UCL, this elite soccer competition takes place across Europe and is watched worldwide.
All the best football clubs across Europe strive to play in the annual tournament that invites the top teams from each country to compete in the 32 team competition. Clubs like Real Madrid, FC Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester City, and more, make the Champions League trophy the most important target of the soccer season.
This is a tournament like no other. It’s basically a mini-FIFA World Cup with the amount of world-class talent involved: Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Buffon, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and many others take extra pride in playing under the bright lights of the UCL stage.
Unlike the FIFA World Cup, you do not need to wait for this football tournament every four years. The Champions League happens every year, just like March Madness!
THE KEY DIFFERENCES
There are a few differences that may intrigue you.
For one, the NCAA Basketball tournament takes place over the span of a few weeks to a month. It happens every year and has been commonly referred to as March Madness. In the UCL, matches begin in the later part of Summer, and the championship game is played either in late May or early June. You basically get a whole year of quality soccer games.
Another big difference is how the tournament is set up. While the NCAA tournament assigns regions and makes up a singular bracket, the UCL splits all of the teams into groups. A group is made up of the top clubs from around Europe. You have to earn your group spot either by being the current champion of your league or by placing in the Top 3 (sometimes top 4) of the League.
At the start of the UCL Tournament, there are eight total groups. Follow this link to look at the UCL Groups that made it into the current Champions League competition. You will notice top clubs like Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, were part of the tournament at the beginning.
Teams advance out of the group stage by winning the most games amongst their group opponents. From there, the winning teams’ names are placed into a bowl, and a draw happens to determine the Sweet Sixteen round. Yes, there is an actual bowl. Like an old-school draw.
Think of it like BINGO, where you reach in your hand and pull out a number. You have no idea who your club will be playing. It could be a familiar league rival or a distant European club. Relive the UCL Round of 16 Draw via this link.
Come springtime, the Champions League fixtures really gets hot – similar to what we see with March Madness.
From the original 32 teams that made the group stage, it’s down to the Sweet Sixteen. After the Sweet 16, you get the Elite Eight. From the Elite Eight, it’s the Final Four. After the Final Four… well, you can do the math. The Top Two meet in the UEFA Champions League Final. For this current 2018 UCL Season, the venue for the UCL final is the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 26th.
So that brings us to where we currently stand with the Champions League tournament: The quarter-finals, aka the UCL Elite Eight.
UCL ELITE EIGHT
These are the eight clubs fighting for a spot in the semi-finals, aka the UCL Final Four:
- Juventus, from Italy’s Serie A
- Real Madrid, from Spain’s La Liga
- Sevilla, from Spain’s La Liga
- FC Bayern Munich, from Germany’s Bundesliga
- Manchester City, from England’s Premier League
- Liverpool, from England’s Premier League
- Barcelona, from Spain’s La Liga
- AS Roma, from Italy’s Serie A
You do not have to be a football expert to know these are some of the biggest clubs in the world. Their logos and names are instantly recognizable, while others like Sevilla are advancing to the quarter-finals for the first time in 60 years! Eight teams enter, only four will survive. The teams play two rounds, with the winner being determined by the total goals scored.
This is how the teams have been drawn when the UCL quarter-finals begin:
- Juventus versus Real Madrid
- Sevilla versus FC Bayern Munich
- Barcelona versus AS Roma
- Manchester City versus Liverpool
So as the NCAA Basketball tournament comes to a close on Monday, April 2nd, be sure to shift your focus over the UCL that resumes on Tuesday, April 3rd. For a complete list of the schedule and times, visit the UEFA Champions League website.
Since these important matches happen during the week, you will have to schedule time away from work… but that didn’t stop you the last few weeks has it?! Life is too short to just worry about work, you need soccer too!
No matter who advances, one thing you can bet on: the Final Four of the Champions League will not disappoint. Just as the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will be sure to entertain. Two great tournaments, two fantastic fan bases!
Who do you think will advance to the Champions League semi-finals?
Engage with us on Twitter at @DiehardScarves and let us know using the hashtag #DHSUCL