The UEFA Champions League comprises three qualifying rounds, a play-off round, a group stage and four knockout rounds.
In matches in the three qualifying rounds and the play-off stage, clubs play two matches against each other on a home-and-away basis. The club which scores the greater aggregate of goals qualifies for the next round, with away goals and then penalties used to determine the winner in the event of a draw.
The ten winners in the play-off round ties – five from the best-placed path and five from the champions path – join 22 automatic entrants in the 32-team group stage. The clubs are split into eight groups of four teams, who play home and away against each of their pool opponents between September and December to decide which two teams from each section advance to the first knockout round. The third-place finishers in each group enter the UEFA Europa League round of 32.
From the last 16 until the semi-finals, clubs play two matches against each other on a home-and-away basis with the same rules as the qualifying and play-off rounds applied. In the last 16, group winners play runners-up other than teams from their own pool or nation, while from the quarter-finals on the draw is free.
The final is decided by a single match, which this season will be played at Fußball Arena München on Saturday 19 May 2012.
Further details, including the criteria for separating teams that finish level on points in a group, can be found in the official competition regulations.
The current UEFA Champions League Trophy, which stands 73.5cm tall and weighs 8.5kg, is the sixth overall and dates back to 2006.
A rule introduced in the 1968/69 season allowed the cup to become the property of any club which won the competition five times or three years in a row. That means Real Madrid CF, AFC Ajax, FC Bayern München, AC Milan and, since 2005, Liverpool FC all have an original in their trophy rooms. Under new regulations, any club which wins the trophy three consecutive times or five times in total receives a special mark of recognition, with the club then starting a new cycle from zero.
The trophy that the winning captain will lift at Wembley Stadium in London is the fifth version of the current design. After Real Madrid were allowed to keep the original in 1967, UEFA's General Secretary, Hans Bangerter, decided to create a new design and called in a local specialist in Berne, Jürg Stadelmann.
"My father Hans and I went along to Herr Bangerter's office and covered the whole floor with the drawings," recalled Stadelmann. "He made comments like, 'The Bulgarians would like the bottom of that. The Spaniards would like that, but the Italians would prefer that and the Germans would go for this bit.' We put the design together like a jigsaw puzzle. It was a design constituted of many parts yet I like it and I think everyone in football likes it as well.
"I remember that it had to be finished before 28 March," Stadelmann added, "because I was getting married and taking my wife on a ten-day boat trip to Los Angeles. The trophy took 340 hours to make. I did the finer work, then it was finished off by the engraver, Fred Bänninger. On time, I am glad to say."
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