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The UEFA Champions League, known simply as the Champions League and originally known as the European Champion Clubs' Cup or European Cup, is an annual international club football competition organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) since 1955 for the top football clubs in Europe. It is the most prestigious club competition in European football. The final of the competition is the most watched annual sporting event worldwide, drawing over 145 million television viewers in 2011.
Prior to 1992, 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.
Champions League winners keep the real trophy for ten months after their victory, and receive a scaled-down replica to keep forever. Winning clubs are also permitted to make replicas of their own, however they must be clearly marked as such and can be a maximum of eighty percent the size of the actual trophy.
The original European Cup trophy was donated by L’Equipe French sports newspaper. This trophy was awarded permanently to Real Madrid in March 1967. At the time, they were the reigning champions, and had won six titles altogether, including the first five competitions from 1956 to 1960.
The replacement trophy, with a somewhat different design from the original, was commissioned by UEFA from Jörg Stadelmann, a jeweller from Berne in Switzerland. At a cost of 10,000 Swiss Francs, it was silver, 74 cm high, weighing 8 kg. Subsequent replacement trophies have replicated this design. In Spanish, it is nicknamed La Orejona ("big-ears") because of the shape of the handles.
The rule to allow a club to keep the trophy after five wins or three consecutive wins was introduced before the 1968-69 season. At that point, Real Madrid was the only club meeting either qualification, and indeed met both. Once a club has been awarded the trophy, its count is reset to zero. For example, a club with no prior titles which won six titles in a row would be permanently awarded trophies after the third and sixth wins (each for three-in-a-row) but not after their fifth win.
Five clubs have kept a trophy and so have been awarded the badge of honour:
1967: Real Madrid CF after six wins, 1956-60 and 1966. They have since won three more times, in 1998, 2000, and 2002.
1973: AFC Ajax, after a third consecutive win. They won a fourth in 1995.
1976: FC Bayern München, after a third consecutive win. They won a fourth in 2001.
1994: AC Milan, after their fifth title. They have since won two more times, in 2003 and 2007.
2005: Liverpool FC, after their fifth title.
Evolution of the Championship format
The format of the competition has evolved substantially over the years, notably with the introduction of a Group Phase beginning in 1991, and multiple national representatives in 1998. The following summarizes the evolution of the championship format through the years:
*1955-1991 - Knockout format, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
**1955: many countries were represented by a team not the domestic champion
**1956-59: the domestic runner-up was allowed to compete where the domestic champion was also European
*1991-1993 - Three knockout qualifying rounds, group phase with 2 groups, 2 group winners meet in final, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
*1993-1994 - Knockout semi-finals added following group phase
*1994-1997 - One knockout qualifying round, group phase with 4 groups, group winners and all runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
*1997-1999 - Two knockout qualifying rounds, group phase with 6 groups, group winners and 2 runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, up to two clubs per country
*1999-2003 - Three knockout qualifying rounds, two group phases with 8 first phase group winners and all runners-up moving to 4 second phase groups, second phase group winners and all runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, up to four clubs per country
*2003-present - Three knockout qualifying rounds, one group phase with 8 groups, group winners and all runners-up to 16 club knockout phase, still up to four clubs per country.
Prior to 1970, aggregate draws were settled by a play-off and (if necessary) Coin . Since then, it has been via the away goals rule and (if necessary) a penalty shootout. The final retained the potential for a replay until the late 1970s.
European cup final tickets