Champions League vs Copa Libertadores

Champions League vs Copa Libertadores – The Ultimate Showdown

Last updated on March 2nd, 2022

There are quite a few competitions that UEFA hosts, such as the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores.

Have you ever thought of the differences between them, and can they be considered to be the equivalent of each other?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between Champions League and Copa Libertadores

The Champions League is the top continental competition for Europe hosted by UEFA, while the Copa Libertadores is the top competition for South America which is hosted by CONMEBOL. Both competitions also differ in the away goals rule and the duration of the competition.

Here is an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

Both the Champions League and Copa Libertadores consist of 32 teams. During the group stages of these 2 competitions, there are 8 groups which contain 4 teams each.

This only measures the number of teams that appear in the competition proper (from the group stages onwards).

Origin of teams

The Champions League consists of teams that originate from a member country of UEFA.

Meanwhile, the clubs that participate in the Copa Libertadores originate from countries in the CONMEBOL football association.

There are 10 member countries in CONMEBOL, and all of them will participate in the Copa América.

Here are some of the top countries from each association:

Champions LeagueCopa Libertadores

Frequency and duration of competition

Both competitions occur on a yearly basis, as part of the club football calendar.

The Champions League usually runs the span of around 11 months, usually between June to May. Meanwhile, the Copa Libertadores runs between February to November in the same year.

The qualifying rounds for the Copa Libertadores will start in February, while the actual group stages start in April. This is actually earlier compared to the football seasons in the Brazilian and Argentinian leagues.

As such, the schedules are slightly different for the Champions League and Copa Libertadores. The Champions League group stages start around the same time as the European season, while the group stages of the Copa Libertadores will start before the football seasons in South American football.

Format of competition

Both the Champions League and Copa Libertadores contain a group stage, and then a knockout round.

The top 2 teams from each group will progress to the knockout round of the competition.

Meanwhile, the 3rd placed teams will enter the ‘tier 2‘ competitions of Europe and South America respectively: the Europa League and Copa Sudamericana.

The knockout round starts with the round of 16. After that, teams will be slowly eliminated until the finals where the top 2 teams will play against each other.

If you’re wondering what happens if the top teams have the same points in the group stages, you can check out this article to find out more.

2-legged ties in the knockout rounds

Both the Champions League and Copa Libertadores contain 2 legs for each knockout round. This means that the teams will play both at home and away.

The Champions League and Copa Libertadores finals are the only one-legged rounds during the knockout stage of either competition.

In the past, the Copa Libertadores finals used to be two-legged too, where the finalists had to play both home and away. However, the finals were changed to a single leg ever since the 2019 Copa Libertadores.

The double-legged rounds ensure that there is no ‘unfair’ advantage of only one team playing in their home ground.

In this way, there is an equal chance for both teams to perform well in front of their fans!

Away goals rule

In the Copa Libertadores, the away goal rule will apply if the teams are level on aggregate after both legs of the knockout round.

This means that the team who scores more away goals will progress if the teams have the same aggregate score.

What is interesting is that if the scores are still level for the 2-legged tie, it will go straight to penalties instead of extra time.

Meanwhile, UEFA abolished the away goals rule in June 2021, so it no longer applies to the Champions League.

This may be a waste as we no longer get classic ties like Barcelona vs Roma in the 2017/18 season.

Number of matches

Here are the number of matches you’ll play in total if you reach the final from the Group Stages for both competitions:

of Matches
Group Stages6
Round of 162

As such, the maximum number of matches that you can play is 13. If your team gets knocked out in the earlier stages, they will play fewer matches.

Squad size

For the Champions League, there are 2 lists that a team can register for the team’s squad.

The first list (List A) has a maximum of 25 players, where 8 of them have to be homegrown players. Meanwhile, the second list (List B) consists of players who are born on or after 1 Jan 1995 as well as other requirements.

There can be an unlimited number of players who are registered on List B.

Meanwhile, the permitted size for a Copa Libertadores squad is 30.

You can read more about the ‘homegrown’ rule in the Premier League, Champions League and other competitions in my guide here.

Qualification for competition

Here are the teams that will qualify for the different competitions:

Champions LeagueCopa Libertadores
League positions
in European leagues
League positions in South
American leagues
League winners
Copa Libertadores
League winners
Copa Sudamericana

For the Champions League, the top 4 countries in the UEFA association coefficient will allow the top 4 teams from each league to qualify for the Champions League group stages.

This is the highest number of teams per league that qualify for the Champions League, whereas countries with lower coefficients will have lesser teams qualifying for the Champions League.

In the Copa Libertadores, Brazil and Argentina have the highest number of slots allocated to them (7 and 6 respectively). Meanwhile, all other countries have 4 slots allocated for their teams.

Due to the fewer number of countries in CONMEBOL (10) compared to Europe, this may result in a slightly more ‘even’ allocation of teams from the different countries.

Loan player rules

Some competitions like the Premier League explicitly state that loan players cannot play against their parent club in Premier League matches.

However, this is not mentioned in the rules by UEFA or CONMEBOL. This means that loaned players are able to play against their parent clubs, and it actually has happened quite a few times!

One of the more notable ones was when Philippe Coutinho played for Bayern Munich, against his parent club (Barcelona).

He came off the bench to score 2 goals and produce 1 assist against Barcelona!

You can read more about the loan players rules in the different leagues with my guide.

Rewards for winning competition

Here are the rewards you’ll receive when you win either competition:

Champions LeagueCopa Libertadores
Qualification for next
season’s competition?
for Super Cup
UEFA Super CupRecopa

Both the Champions League and Copa Libertadores winners will immediately qualify for the respective competitions next season.

They will also play in the Super Cup versions for each association: the UEFA Super Cup and the Recopa Sudamericana.

Get the latest action in the Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana on Fanatiz, where you can stream the latest matches from your devices or TV.

Dominance of teams

In this section, we will be looking at the dominance of the teams from the different countries since the 2016/17 season:

Champions LeagueCopa Libertadores
England (5)Brazil (10)
Spain (5)Argentina (8)
France (4)Ecuador (2)
Germany (3)
Italy (2)
Netherlands (1)

When comparing the semi-finalists between these 2 competitions, the Copa Libertadores actually has less ‘variation’ compared to the Champions League.

The Copa Libertadores is mainly dominated by Brazilian and Argentinian teams, which includes the likes of:

  • River Plate
  • Boca Juniors
  • Flamengo
  • Palmeiras

Meanwhile, the Champions League is slightly more competitive in the sense that there is a wider variety of teams that feature in the semi-finals of the competition.

Nevertheless, it is still dominated by the top 5 leagues in Europe, with Ajax from Eredivisie being the only team outside of the top 5 to have featured in the semi-finals.


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

Champions LeagueCopa Libertadores
of teams
of teams
South America
Duration11 months
(June – May)
9 months
(Feb – Nov)
FormatGroup stage
+ knockout rounds
Group stage
+ knockout rounds
2-legged tiesPresentPresent
Away goals ruleAbolished in 2021Present
Number of matchesMaximum of 13Maximum of 13
Squad size25 (17 homegrown)Under 30 players
QualificationLeague position,
Champions League and
Europa League winners
League position,
Copa Libertadores and
Copa Sudamericana winners
Loan player rulesCan play against
parent club
Can play against
parent club
Qualification for
next season’s
for Super Cup
UEFA Super CupRecopa
of teams
More varietyLess variety

Both of them are rather similar!

Is the Copa Libertadores equivalent to the Champions League?

The Copa Libertadores can be considered as the equivalent to the Champions League as it is the competition where the top clubs from CONMEBOL countries will compete in a group stage and knockout tournament. This is the same for the Champions League, where the top teams from UEFA countries will compete in this tournament.

As such, both tournaments are very similar to each other, just that they are organised in different continents!


The Champions League and the Copa Libertadores are 2 of the top club competitions in the world.

However, the Champions League may have more ‘prestige’ due to its widespread popularity, as compared to the Copa Libertadores.

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