Friday, December 15, 2006

Champions League Knockout Stage For Dummies

For those not in the know...

Now that the group stage is over, the last 16 is a knock out (playoff) format. Up until the final, the two teams drawn together play what is called a 2 legged tie and it works like this: the first leg is in one team's stadium, and the 2nd leg, often referred as the 'return leg' is in the other team's stadium. This is the only fair way to do it since home field advantage is so massive in soccer. The winner is determined by the combined score over the two legs. Think of the two 90 minute matches as one 180 minute match broken up into 2 halves.

But what if they tie, Kanu? What happens then?

If the total score (they always call it aggregate) ends up being even, then the first tie-breakers is away goals, specifically the number of goals you scored away from home compared to the number that the other team scored away from home. For example, If Arsenal lose 1-2 to PSV in their first leg in Holland and then win 1-0 at home, the aggregate score is 2-2, but Arsenal "go through" (read: win) because they scored 1 away goal while PSV scored 0 away goals. So scoring away from home is massively important. You will see teams that lose their away leg 0-1 alot more upset than ones that lose 1-2.

OK - I get it. But what if away goals are even?

Ahhh. If at the end of the 2nd leg the aggregate score is tied and the away goals are even, then extra time is played - two 15 minute overtimes. If it is still tied, then it's on to the lottery of penalties.

That is how it works in the round of 16, quarterfinals, and semifinals. The Champions League final is a one match affair played at a predetermined neutral venue (think Final Four sites, which are awarded a few years in advance) where each team is allocated maybe 10% of the tickets and the other 80% go to UEFA and its marketing partners. This year's final will be held in Athens, Greece in May.

The winners get their hands on this.
And a shitload of cash.

Oh, and the teams will be collecting a boatload of cash every step of the way towards the final, with cash payments for each stage reached as well as a huge bundle of TV revenue. Courtesy of Bobbeh:

Prize money to be paid out to the 32 group teams-$363 million.
Pool money from TV to be shared-$355 million.
Estimated prize money for the eventual winner-$29 million.
Total sponsorship and TV revenue generated by the Champions League-$986 million.

So now you understand why it is so vital for teams to finish high enough in their league to qualify for the following season's Champions League. A team in the CL gets millions more in their coffers than a team who doesn't, and they use it to lure the best players, who want to play on CL qualified teams because they want to play against the best of the best, which is naturally the other CL qualified teams. In modern day Euro soccer, this competition by and large is the instrument that keeps the rich richer, and predictably you see many of the same big powerhouse clubs in the competition over and over year after year.

Oh-my-how-money-is-ruining-the-game cynicism aside, winning the Champions League is the biggest achievement in club football (if you take the elitist stance that most do that European club football is massively superior to club football played on the other continents). The CL is for European club football what the World Cup is for national football, and every footballer aspires to win it.

Winning the CL is like Ron Burgundy


Round of 16, 1st Leg: February 20-21
Round of 16, 2nd leg: March 6-7

Quarterfinals, 1st leg: April 3-4
Quarterfinals, 2nd leg: April 10-11

Semifinals, 1st leg: April 24-25
Semifinals, 2nd leg: May 1-2

Champions League Final, Athens Greece: Wednesday May 23, 2007

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