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As in the United Kingdom, football in the rest of Europe is organised along similar lines, though few countries outside England have as large a league structure, most having only two professional leagues before splitting into regional and amateur leagues. European Football is organized, administered and regulated by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which is a union of the governing football associations of each European country, and is directly under FIFA as one of it's member continental federations.
Europe's top national football teams are Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Portugal, Italy and France, and they tend to be consistently among the favourites for both European and Worldwide tournaments. They also tend to usually win them, though exceptions can happen, such as Greece's shock victory in the 2004 European Championships.
The top-ranked leagues are the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the German Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, the French Ligue 1, Portuguese Liga, Russian Premier League, Ukrainian Premier League, Dutch Eredivisie, Romanian Liga I and the Turkish Süper Lig.
The major European football tournaments are:
- the European Championship: a quadrennial competition for all European national teams. Germany and Spain have won it 3 times, France and Italy twice, and once each for Portugal, Greece, Denmark, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the USSR.
- the UEFA Champions League: a competition for the top European clubs; which is neither a league, nor is it (since 1997) for national champions only. The tournament runs from August to May. Real Madrid have 9 wins; AC Milan 7; Liverpool 5; FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax 4 each.
- the UEFA Europa League: a secondary competition for those European clubs not quite good enough for the Champions League; it was formerly called the UEFA Cup. Juventus, Internazionale and Liverpool have the most wins, three each.
There are equivalent competitions in women's football, including
- the UEFA Women's Championship: A quadriennial championship for national teams first held in 1984. So far it has been won seven times by (West) Germany, twice by Norway, and once by Sweden.
53 domestic leagues send teams to Champions League and Europa League. The better a league is, the more teams qualify and the later in the competition they enter. Both competitions are divided into three phases:
- Qualification: Three qualification rounds, then a playoff round. Each round is home/away with the aggregate score of the two legs deciding who qualifies. In case of a tie, the away goals rule is implemented. If it is still a tie, it will proceed to the standard extra time game and penalty shootout.
- Group Phase: Groups of 4 teams play double round robin. A win counts 3 points, a draw 1.
- Champions League: 8 groups, 32 teams: title holder, top 12 champions, top 6 runners-up, top 3 thirds, 10 playoff round winners (5 champions, 5 others).
- Europa League: 12 groups, 48 teams: 10 Champions League playoff losers, 38 Europa League playoff winners.
- Knockout Phase: Each round is home/away again, with the aggregate (total) goals scored as the basis for elimination. In the first round group winners are drawn against runners-up.
- The 8 third-placed teams of the Champions League groups are added to the Europa League, with the better ones counted as winners, the others as runners-up. After this, the competitions are fully separate.
- Teams from the same league cannot be drawn against each other until the quarter-finals.
- Final: One game which is held on a predetermined location. This is to maintain a neutral atmosphere for the two teams. Seating is guaranteed equally for the fans of the two competing clubs in case that the club owning the stadium reaches the final.
Some major European footballing nations in detail:
Portugal play in red shirt, white shorts and green socks and have been a frustrating side to support, until 2016 when they won the European Championship for the first time: brilliant at times and with some hugely talented players but were never quite able to parlay this into a trophy win. The closest they got to this was when they hosted Euro 2004, but surprisingly enough, they lost to Greece in the final.
Portuguese domestic football is dominated by three clubs: Benfica and Sporting, both from Lisbon, and FC Porto. Between them they have won the league 71 times out of 73: the other two wins were one-shot victories for Belenenses (Lisbon) and Boavista (Porto). Benfica and FC Porto have also won Europe's top club honour, the Champions' League (formerly the European Cup), most recently Porto in 2003/04.
Spain play in red shirt with yellow accents, blue shorts and black socks and, like Portugal, have often promised much and delivered little in the way of silverware. Unlike Portugal, however, the Spanish team (affectionately dubbed La Fúria, "The Fury", after the red jerseys) have won the European Championship three: once in 1964 and later twice in a row in 2008 and 2012. The 2008 winning team also went on to record Spain's first World Cup win at the 2010 edition held in South Africa. Current European and World champions, they are generally considered to be the best national side in the world right now.
The two giants of Spanish club football are Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the rivalry between whom is intensified by politics: Barcelona is capital of Catalonia, a proudly different region of Spain with its own language and customs, both of which were repressed during the Franco years. Real ("Royal") Madrid, on the other hand, were Franco's "pet" team and ambassadors for the regime... Both teams have won many European honours, though Real Madrid have the edge with a record nine European Cup/Champions' League wins, five of them in a row in the late 1950s. Other teams include Atlético de Madrid (third force of the country, 1974 European runner-up) and Valencia CF (runner-up of the 2000 and 2001 Champions Leagues).
France play in blue shirt, white shorts and red socks and have won the FIFA World Cup twice, the first time as hosts, in 1998 and 2018 and also won the European Championship in 1984 and 2000. Since the 1990s a significant proportion of the national team has been black or Arab-descended, a fact credited with increasing multicultural awareness in the nation as a whole.
French club football has a wide range of strong teams, with a large number of clubs having historically won domestic honours - though Olympique Lyonnais have monopolised the title from 2001/02 to 2007/08, with FC Girondins de Bordeaux breaking the streak in the following season. However, French clubs have rarely challenged seriously internationally, with Marseille's 1993 Champions' league win the only occasion on which a French club has won the top European honour. Other well-known clubs include Saint-Étienne (the country's most successful team with 10 victories, and runners-up of the 1976 European Cup), Nancy-Lorraine, Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco (which came closest to repeating Marseille's feat, losing the 2004 Champions League final to FC Porto). Also, there is Stade de Reims, who supplied many players for the French team of the 1950s and was twice runner-up of the European Cup, in 1956 and 1959, losing both to Real Madrid, and now is playing at the second national league.
England play in all whites and have won the FIFA World Cup once, as hosts, in 1966 and have also reached the semis of the European Championship in 1968 and 1996 (the latter at home) as well as the final in the 2020 European Championship in 2021 (all but one of their games at home), losing to Italy in the penalties.
English club football also has many strong contenders, namely Arsenal and Chelsea (both from London, the latter of whom is the current title holder), Manchester United (which was the first English team to achieve an European title, in 1968) and Liverpool (both of these sharing the record of national league victories — 18 each). Other successful teams include Nottingham Forest (European champions twice, in 1978 and 1979, and currently at the second national championship level), Aston Villa (from Birmingham, won the 1982 European Cup) and Leeds United (runners-up of the 1975 European Cup, currently in the third level). Incongruently with the national team's success, the domestic league is considered by most to be the best league in the world.
The Netherlands play in orange shirt and socks and white shorts and are one of the best countries never to have won the FIFA World Cup - they made it to the final in 1974, 1978, and 2010, losing to the hosts in '74 and '78 (West Germany and Argentina respectively) and Spain in 2010. In fact only have the 1988 European Championship to show for decades of high-quality football. Co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with Belgium.
The Dutch league is dominated by three sides - Ajax of Amsterdam (pronounced eye-yaks, not ay-jacks), PSV of Eindhoven and - slightly behind the other two - Feijenoord of Rotterdam. Ajax in particular have also been one of the strongest teams in Europe on occasion, particularly in the early 1970s when they won three European Cups on the trot.
Italy play in blue shirt and socks and white shorts and are the most successful European team in the World Cup along with Germany, their 2006 triumph being their fourth - although their 1934 win on home soil remains controversial, thanks to Mussolini's attempts to influence referees.
Italian sides have also been very strong in Europe, and there are several different teams that have won major honours at home and internationally: AC Milan and Internazionale (also of Milan), Juventus of Turin, AS Roma and Lazio from the capital, Fiorentina of Florence and Napoli. Italian football was hit hard by a match-fixing scandal in 2005 which saw most of the big teams forcibly relegated to the lower divisions and/or being stripped of any titles won that year (namely Juventus - which paved the way for Internazionale to regain domination of Italian football, as they haven't had been national champions for 16 years by then), but the World Cup win the following year marked a comeback.
Germany play in white shirt (sometimes with highlights in the flag's black/red/gold colors) and socks and black shorts, and the current national team is regarded as the continuation of the old West German team which won three World Cups (in 1954, 1974 and 1990). Since the German reunification, they have won the World Cup once, in 2014. Although tied with Italy as the most successful World cup team in terms of victories, Germany beats them statistically by a longshot, thanks to their consistency: Germany have a reputation for being a strong team to beat, even when they're having an off-day, and are a particular bogey team for England. Have a strong rivalry with the Dutch based
partly on World War Two history and partly on the German win over the Dutch in 1974.
German club football is dominated by Bayern Munich, though there are plenty of other strong teams out there such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, VfB Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04 (from Gelsenkirchen, near the Dutch border), Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg. West Germany had no national league until 1963, a legacy of German soccer being organized in regional federations that went back to Imperial Germany. Bayern Munich won three European Cups in the mid-1970s and once in 2001, and Dortmund and Hamburg have each won the top European title once, but other than that German clubs have been relatively lacklustre in that competition (the best performance by any other teams were runner-ups by Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1977 against Liverpool, and Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 against Real Madrid). Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern München, and FC Schalke 04 have won the now-defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup and/or the UEFA Cup. 1. FC Magdeburg is the only club of the former GDR league to have won a European competition, the Cup Winners' Cup in 1974, the annus mirabilis of East German football. The German women's national team won the World Cup twice, in 2003 and 2007, and the European champtionship seven times.
Other countries in Euro Footy include, but are not limited to:
- Austria: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Was known as the Wunderteam (Wonder Team) in the 1930s, before Nazi annexation crippled the team from its foundations. Along with Switzerland, was one of the joint hosts of the 2008 European Championship. Main clubs: Rapid Wien (from Vienna, most nationally successful team, with 32 league trophies), Austria Wien (trailing behind their rivals Rapid, with 23 wins) and Red Bull Salzburg (current two-time champions).
- Belgium play in red shirt, black shorts and yellow socks and, despite never really challenging for honours, have usually produced a much better team than you might expect of a small nation deeply divided along linguistic grounds. Co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with the Netherlands. Belgian club football is dominated by Anderlecht of Brussels and Club Brugge of Bruges, though the current champions are Standard Liège (French-speaking). Club Brugge did make it to the European Cup final in 1978, the furthest a Belgian team has gone in that competition.
- Bulgaria: white shirt and socks and green shorts. While not much of a contender, they managed to assemble a spectacular team which reached the 1994 World Cup semifinals, spearheaded by Hristo Stoichkov, one of the best Eastern European footballers of all time. Main clubs: CSKA Sofia (31 league victories, and revealed Stoichkov) and Levski Sofia (CSKA's main rivals, with five league trophies behind them).
- Bosnia: White shirt with blue stripes on the right sleeve and torso, blue shorts, white socks. Bosnia and Herzegovina entered international football amidst the desolation of the Bosnian War. The country lay in ruins and many young players were killed or wounded during the war- or simply elected to play for other sides (whether due to ethnic intolerance or simply to earn money.) Needless to say, it was an unsurprisingly weak team. Things began to change rapidly for the better after enough time passed for new players to grow up and train without war surrounding them. Still: corruption, underfunding and management-team conflicts are endemic to Bosnian national football. Since the mid-00s Bosnia has gained a reputation as a confusing team to play against- keeping up with giants such as Spain, Portugal, France and Germany during away games on one day and getting absolutely smashed the next. Due to this inconsistency Bosnia has only qualified for a major tournament once, for the 2014 World Cup.
- Croatia: white-and-red checkered shirt, white shorts and blue socks. Arguably the most successful of the national teams created after the breakup of Yugoslavia, if the third place in 1998 and second place in 2018 are any indication. Main teams: Dinamo Zagreb (which holds 12 Croatian league wins) and Hajduk Split (which carried the tradition of one of the main teams in Yugoslavia over to Croatia).
- Czech Republic: red shirt, white shorts and blue socks. Saw its better days while under the Czechoslovakia flag (by which they were runners-up in the 1934 and 1962 World Cups, and won the 1976 European Championship and the 1980 Olympic gold medal), but on their own right are not a bad team, as the second place in Euro '96 can attest. Main teams: Sparta Praha (most victorious in the country, with 11 leagues under their belts) and Slavia Praha, both from Prague.
- Denmark: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Won the Euro '92 after replacing the war-torn Yugoslavia in the nick of time. Main clubs: FC Copenhagen (greatest champions of the modern Danish league, with eight victories) and Brondby (which won ten national championships, and in which Michael Laudrup gained projection).
- Greece: all-white uniform with blue highlights. Shocked the world by winning the 2004 European Championship over then-favorites Portugal. But still, they are on an average level at best. Main teams: Olympiakos (from Piraeus, the dominant team in Greek football, with 37 league trophies) and Panathinaikos (from Athens, which reached the 1971 European Cup final, losing it to Johan Cruyff's Ajax).
- Hungary: red shirt, white shorts and green socks. Now they pose not much of a threat, but back in the 1950s the "Mighty Magyars" were a fearful force to be reckoned with, having in their ranks legends like Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis. Everything came crashing down with the loss at the 1954 World Cup final and the suppression of the 1956 rebellion, and now their legacy consists of three Olympic gold medals (1952, 1964 and 1968) and another World Cup second place (in 1938). Main clubs: Ferencvaros (28 national league victories, and just recovering from a second-flight spell) and Kispest Honved (whose 1950s team was practically synonymous with the Magical Magyars).
- Ireland: green shirt and socks and white shorts. Perhaps the least football mad nation in Europe, at least when it comes to local clubs, with attendance figures for League of Ireland matches being far below those for Gaelic Football and Hurling (though it must be said the British clubs have a lot of fans and when the national team is playing interest increases dramatically.) While its clubs are not continental-level contenders, the national team has achieved some degree of success, qualifying to three World Cups and overcoming first stage in all three.
- Norway: red shirt, white shorts and navy socks. Not so hot in men's football, but their women's national team became World Champions in 1995 and also won two European Championships. Its main club is Trondheim side Rosenborg, who won the league 21 times - 13 of them in a row (1992 to 2004).
- Poland: white shirt and socks and red shorts. Gold medallist in 1972, and third place in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups. Main clubs: Wisla Krakow (with seven national titles in the last twelve seasons), Legia Warszawa and Lech Poznan (current title holders). Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Ukraine.
- Romania: plays in all yellows. Like Bulgaria, they left quite a mark in world football in the 1990s, thanks to their ace Ghoerghe Hagi. Main teams: Steaua Bucharest (1986 European winners, and runners-up in 1989 - in both occasions helmed by Hagi too - and greatest national winners with 23 leagues) and CFR Cluj (an uprising team which won two of the three latest league championships).
- Russia: white shirt and shorts and blue socks. Like the Czechs, their prime in football was under the Soviet red flag, with which they won the first European Championship in 1960, plus two Olympic gold medals (1956 and 1988). Main clubs: Spartak Moscow (nine league titles), Dynamo Moscow (for which Lev Yashin, arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the game, played his entire career), Zenit St. Petersburg (who won the 2008 UEFA Cup after upsetting Bayern Munich in the semifinals), Rubin Kazan, and CSKA Moskva.
- Scotland: navy shirt and socks and white shorts. Despite their tradition (played the first international match ever), they are always unlucky in international competitions (they never went past stage one of each World Cup final they were in). Main clubs: Celtic (European Cup champions in 1967 and runners-up in 1970) and Rangers (53 league victories against 42 from their rivals), both from Glasgow - and with a very well-documented rivalry, on and off the pitch (Celtic's supporters are Catholic, and Rangers fans are Protestants).
- Serbia: red shirt and socks and white shorts. While relatively new to the game, they are the direct successors of the Yugoslav legacy, which includes the 1960 Olympic gold, two second places at the European Championship (1960 and 1968) and the 1991 European Cup won by FK Red Star (or Crvena Zvezda, if you're a native Serbian speaker). Aside from the aforementioned Red Star, its other main club is Partizan, from Belgrade like RS, and which lost the 1966 European Cup to Real Madrid.
- Sweden: yellow shirt and socks and blue shorts. Hosted the 1958 World Cup, only losing the final to Brazil, and the Euro '92. Main clubs: Malmö FF (1979 European Cup runners-up), IFK Göteborg (from Gothenburg, with 18 national league victories) and AIK Solna (from Stockholm).
- Switzerland: red shirt and socks and white shorts. Hosted the 1954 World Cup and Euro 2008, the latter along with Austria. Have a tradition of playing defensive, earning them the World Cup record of time without conceding a goal (559 minutes between 2006 and 2010). Main clubs: FC Basel (who won five of the latest ten national league trophies), FC Zürich (who won three of the latest five) and Grasshopper (also from Zurich, the most nationally successful team with 27 league victories).
- Turkey: white shirt with a red horizontal band and white shorts and socks. Showed the world what they are capable of by clinching the 2002 World Cup third place. Its main teams are all from Istanbul: Galatasaray (who beat Arsenal to the 2000 UEFA Cup win), Fenerbahce and Besiktas. That Bursaspor won the 2010 national championship was a major upset made them only the second non-Istanbul club to do so; the other was six-times champion Trabzonspor.
- Ukraine: yellow shirt and socks and blue shorts. The most famous club is FC Dynamo Kyiv, which won the Soviet championship and the post-USSR Ukrainian one 13 times each, as well as the European Cup-Winners' Cup twice. In 1975, headed by European footballer of the year Oleg Blokhin, Dynamo also won the Supercup. Dynamo's greatest rival is Shakhtar Donetsk which won the Ukrainian championship five times as well as the 2009 UEFA Cup. Co-hosted the European Championships in 2012 with Poland.