Which Teams Can Play In The Champions League

Which Teams Can Play In The UEFA Champions League?

Last updated on October 8th, 2021

The UEFA Champions League is known as one of the major tournaments in the football calendar.

You may even argue that it is better than the World Cup!

However, not every club is able to participate in this tournament, and here’s what you need to know.

Is the Champions League only for European teams?

The Champions League is a football competition that is hosted by UEFA. As such, the Champions League will only consist of teams that are from countries under UEFA, which are mainly European countries except for some exceptions like Israel.

There are a few countries that may not actually be in Europe, but are under UEFA. This includes:

  1. Israel
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Kazakstan

Some of these countries are transcontinental states, where their land overlaps across different continents. Meanwhile, other countries like Israel are UEFA members due to political reasons.

For a club to be eligible to play in the UEFA Champions League, the country which they originate from has to be a member of UEFA.

There are actually some Welsh clubs that are playing in England, instead of the Welsh Premier League. In the event that these Welsh teams qualify for the Champions League, they may be representing England in the competition!

Can Irish teams play in the UEFA Champions League?

Irish teams are able to play in the UEFA Champions League as Ireland is one of the association members of UEFA. The champions of the League of Ireland Premier Division will enter the Champions League in the First Qualifying Round.

For example, in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds, Shamrock Rovers were knocked out in the First Round. The only way that they can play in the Champions League Group Stages is by winning all of the 4 qualifying rounds:

  1. First qualifying round
  2. Second qualifying round
  3. Third qualifying round
  4. Playoffs

Once they win the Playoffs, they will be able to feature in the Group Stages.

Has any Irish team played in the Champions League?

Currently, there has not been any Irish teams who have made it into the Champions League Group Stages. The closest team to have almost made it was Dundalk FC in the 2016/17 season, where they lost to Legia Warsaw in the play-off round.

Irish teams have found it hard to make it into the Champions League Group Stages. Dundalk FC was the closest in 2016/17, but they eventually lost out to Legia Warsaw in the play-off round.

As such, Legia Warsaw made it to the group stages. Meanwhile Dundalk went on to qualify for the Europa League group stages.

Can Scottish teams play in the Champions League?

Scottish teams are able to play in the UEFA Champions League, as Ireland is one of the association members of UEFA. The champions and runners-up of the Scottish Premier League will enter the Champions League in the Third and Second Qualifying Round respectively.

Similar to Irish teams, Scottish teams do not automatically qualify for the Champions League Group Stages.

They will need to win their Qualifying Rounds before they are able to play in the Group Stages.

In the 2021/22 Champions League season, Celtic lost out to Midtjylland in the Second Qualifying Round. As a result, no Scottish teams featured in the Champions League Group Stages.

The Scottish Premier League actually has a different rule regarding loan players and playing against their parent club compared to the Champions League.

Can non-European teams play in the UEFA Champions League?

As a general rule, football clubs who do not originate from a European country are not eligible to participate in the UEFA Champions League. However, some exceptions to this include teams from Israel, which may be able to play in the Champions League, even though Israel is not a part of Europe.

UEFA is the European football federation, and it is one of the different federations for the continents in the world.

Clubs who come from countries that are UEFA members will be able to play in the Champions League. If not, they will have to play in their respective continental competitions.

Here are the different competitions for each continent:

FederationContinentCompetition
UEFAEuropeUEFA Champions League
AFCAsiaAFC Champions League
CAFAfricaCAF Champions League
CONCACAFNorth, Central America
and Carribbean
CONCACAF
Champions League
CONMEBOLSouth AmericaCopa Libertadores
OFCOceaniaOFC Champions League

Most club continental competitions are actually called the Champions League!

For example, Asian teams only play in the AFC Champions League, while African teams will play in the CAF Champions League.

Due to the country’s geographical location, these teams will be unable to play in the UEFA Champions League.

Can Mexican teams play in the UEFA Champions League?

Mexican teams are unable to play in the UEFA Champions League. Mexico is a part of CONCACAF, which is the football federation of Central, North America and the Caribbean, instead of UEFA which is the football federation of European teams. As such, they will play in the CONCACAF Champions League instead.

Similar to how MLS teams can’t play in the UEFA Champions League, Mexican teams belong to CONCACAF, and not UEFA.

Instead, both American and Mexican teams will play in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is a different competition from the UEFA Champions League.

Can African teams play in the UEFA Champions League?

African teams are unable to play in the UEFA Champions League. Africa has its own football federation, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which is separate association from UEFA. As such, African teams will play in the CAF Champions League, instead of the UEFA Champions League.

The football federation that includes African teams is the CAF, and not UEFA. As such, African teams will not play in the UEFA Champions League, which include teams from Europe.

In the previous CAF Champions League final, Al Ahly (Egypt) emerged as the champions.

Can Asian teams play in the UEFA Champions League?

Asian teams are part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and not UEFA which consists of European teams. As a result, Asian teams will play in the AFC Champions League, instead of the UEFA Champions League.

AFC is a separate football confederation from UEFA, which contains teams from Asia and Australia.

As such, the Asian teams will play in the AFC Champions League instead.

Can ISL teams play in UEFA Champions League?

Indian Super League (ISL) teams are unable to play in the UEFA Champions League, as India is part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and not UEFA. ISL teams will play in the AFC Champions League, instead of the UEFA Champions League.

Since ISL teams originate from Asia, they will be unable to play in the European football competitions.

The AFC Champions League has only allocated one slot for Indian teams. The only Indian team that can feature in the ACL is the champions of the previous seasons’ ISL.

This is due to the expansion of the ACL from 32 teams to 40 teams. Previously the Indian teams would need to win all of their qualifying rounds first before they can progress to the ACL Group Stages.

With this new expansion, the ISL champions will be able to progress immediately into the group stages.

Can any country join UEFA?

For a country to be a member association of UEFA, it must have at least a part of its geographical location to be included in the European continent. Some countries are fully situated in Europe, such as Germany or Spain. Meanwhile, other countries are transcontinental, where only a part of their country may be situated in Europe.

There is no eligibility criteria for a country to join UEFA. However, since this is a European federation, the country who is in UEFA should have at least some of their territory in Europe!

There are some countries that are transcontinental. This means that their territory overlaps multiple continents. Some of these transcontinental countries include:

  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Azerbaijan

Due to this ‘ambiguity’ of the continent that these countries are in, they are able to play in UEFA competitions.

Why are Russian teams in the Champions League?

Russia is considered to be a transcontinental state, overlapping between both Europe and Asia. Russia has been a UEFA member ever since 1954, which explains why Russian teams are able to participate in the UEFA Champions League.

In the 2021/22 season, the only Russian team to appear in the Champions League is Zenit St Petersburg.

Why are Israeli teams in the Champions League?

Israel was originally a part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), before it was expelled from the federation in 1974. Israel became an official member of UEFA in 1991, and has been participating in European competitions ever since.

Israel was previously expelled from the AFC, mainly due to political reasons.

However, they were then accepted by UEFA in 1991, which has allowed some of their teams to play in the Champions League.

Some of the Israeli teams that have featured in the Champions League include:

ClubSeasons In
Champions League
Maccabi Haifa2002/03

2009/10
Maccabi Tel Aviv2004/05

2015/16
Hapoel Tel Aviv2010/11

Do Turkish teams play in the Champions League?

Turkey is an association member of UEFA. As such, the winners and runners-up of the Turkish Süper Lig will be able to feature in the UEFA Champions League.

The winners of the Turkish Süper Lig will enter the group stages immediately. Meanwhile, the runners-up will only qualify for the Second Qualifying Round.

This means that the runners-up will need to go through 3 more Qualifying Rounds before they can play in the Group Stages.

Currently, there are 6 Turkish teams that have made an appearance in the Champions League:

  1. Galatasaray
  2. Beşiktaş
  3. Fenerbahçe
  4. Bursaspor
  5. Trabzonspor
  6. İstanbul Başakşehir

Some of these teams have stars on their jersey, which signify the number of Turkish Süper Lig titles they have won.

Conclusion

The teams that participate in the UEFA Champions League mainly come from European countries. This includes teams that come from prominent leagues such as:

  1. Premier League
  2. La Liga
  3. Bundesliga

However, there are some exceptions. Some countries are not technically fully in Europe, but they are members of UEFA.

This allows them to still participate in the Champions League!

For all other clubs that belong to the Asian, American or African football federations, they will not be able to play in the UEFA Champions League.

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