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UEFA Champions League: A Primer

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LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  A detailed view of the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Final 2011 Ticket Launch at City Hall on February 17 2011 in London England.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: A detailed view of the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Final 2011 Ticket Launch at City Hall on February 17 2011 in London England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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With the group stage draw of the Champions League on Thursday, I decided it was time for a primer for the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League, since the play in rounds have been going on for about a week or so now.

I thought this would be good for those who already know about some of the history of the CL and those who are coming to Managing Madrid for the first time to know some important dates, and of course, the role and history of this storied tournament, one that Real Madrid has a long history in.

History

The year was 1954 and the Wolverhampton Wanderers had just defeated Honved (the Hungarian Champions) 3-2. The then manager of Wolves Stan Cullis proudly exclaimed that Wolverhampton were "Champions Of the World!" Gabriel Haniot, who at the time was the editor of the French soccer magazine L'Equipe, thought this was laughable at best and convinced the heads of UEFA to come up with a tournament to settle this, shall we say, dispute.

Thus the European Cup was born.

It would be known this way until 1992, but it wouldn't become the tournament we know and love until 1995 when UEFA realized they could cash in on it. So they re-branded it, getting a large central sponsor, TV rights sales, stadium standards and match officiating. When UEFA did that, the income rose to extremely high levels. We're talking over half a billion Euros. The TV coverage now spans more than 100 countries.

Real Madrid & The Cup/Champions League

Without being biased, I can truly say this is Real Madrid's trophy. Now I'm sure you're scratching your head, thinking that I'm off my rocker. But listen, here's the deal.

From 1956 to 1960, Real Madrid won the first five European Cups. This earned the right for Los Blancos to house the original trophy. That's right, that trophy that Braca held aloft last season? It's the trophy alright, but not the original one, which is in Real Madrid's possession.

After the win in 1960, madridistas would have to wait until 1966 to see their beloved team hoist the European Cup again. It would be Partizan Belgrade that would fall to Los Blancos, ending a reign of terror that both Inter and AC Milan had had over the European tournament since 1960. Speaking of AC Milan, they are the only other club besides Real Madrid who have won the contest more times than any other club side in Europe.

It would be another 32 years before Real Mardrid would reclaim the title of European Champs after defeating a tough Juventus side 1-0 in the 1998 final. Several former Real Madrid members dot the top scorers list as well. Raul still tops the list with 66 goals, and right behind him is Ruud van Nistelroy with 60. Other former players include Alfredo Di Stefano, Frenando Morientes and Fernec Puskas.

As we all know, Los Blancos were bounced out of the tournament last season by arch-rivals Barcelona in a hotly contested two legged semi-final. Once again we will go into the tournament as a favorite to bust out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds. England has won the most European Cup/Champions League titles with 23% while Spain and Italy are tied at 22%. So it's a tight race between those three countries.

2011-2012 Champions League Important Dates

Group Stage Draw: August 25th

SEPTEMBER

13/14 September 2011 – Champions League MD1

27/28 September 2011 – Champions League MD2

OCTOBER

18/19 October 2011 – Champions League MD3

NOVEMBER

1/2 November 2011 – Champions League MD4

22/23 November 2011 – Champions League MD5

DECEMBER

6/7 December 2011 – Champions League MD6

16 December 2011 – Draw for Champions League last 16

FEBRUARY

14/15 February 2012 – Champions League last 16, 1st leg

21/22 February 2012 – Champions League last 16, 1st leg

MARCH

6/7 March 2012 – Champions League last 16, 2nd leg

13/14 March 2012 – Champions League last 16, 2nd leg

27/28 March 2012 – Champions League quarter finals, 1st leg

APRIL

3/4 April 2012 – Champions League quarter finals, 2nd leg

17/18 April 2012 – Champions League semi finals, 1st leg

24/25 April 2012 – Champions League semi finals, 2nd leg

MAY

19 May 2012 – Champions League Final in Munchen

Source: Championsleague.ca

There is more to come, as we'll break down the group stages after the draw. Honestly, this is one of my favorite tournaments, and I love the history behind it. So I'll be doing a whole series on it, as we progress through the champions league season. It is one of the reasons I became a Real Madrid supporter, as for awhile this was my only way of getting to see Los Blancos.