The infrastructure that soccer is set up upon is an intricate and confusing thing to learn, but the way it all fits together is remarkable and makes for a universally connected landscape. There are countless organizations and competitions that make up the world of soccer, and in this blog post I will make it clear which is which and where is where.
First of all, there are two categories of soccer competition: club and international. International competitions include, but are not limited to, the Euro tournament, the World Cup, the Olympics, the Confederations Cup (played before the World Cup as an “appetizer”), and the Gold Cup (the North American version of the Euros. International teams are teams made up of players from the same nationality and called up by their country to play. Club teams are businesses, like the member clubs that make up the NBA and NFL, and can employ players of any nationality, although some countries have sanctions that protect domestic jobs.
Club soccer in each country consists of three competitions and three corresponding trophies, the league, Domestic Cup, and continental cup. The names of these vary from country to country, for example the top league in England is the English Premier League, the continental trophy is the UEFA Champions League, and the Domestic Cup is called the English FA Cup. The league is the top flight league within the system of promotion and relegation in that country. Promotion and relegation is a system in which the three worst teams in each league move down (relegated) into the next lesser league and the top three teams move up into the next highest league. Promotion and relegation is used in almost every country in the world except for the United States and Australia. The Domestic cup is a trophy that can be won by any team in any division within a certain country. In England there are over 400 clubs that compete in its domestic cup, both professional and amateur teams, the FA Cup. In the United States, the top league is called Major League Soccer and the domestic cup is called the US Open Cup. Since the US is in North America, it is governed by CONCACAF and its clubs participate in the continental competition CONCACAF Champions League if they qualify.
Secondly, there are 6 major organizations that oversee each continent at both the club and international level. These organizations are CONMEBOL (South America),
CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North America), UEFA (Europe), AFC (Asia), and OFC (Oceania). These are FIFA confederations. FIFA, or Federation Internationale de Football, is the governing body of all soccer around the world. Not every country is a member of FIFA, but an overwhelming majority of countries are.
Winners of league cups and domestic cups automatically qualify for continental competition. There are 6 continental competitions that correspond to the 6 FIFA confederations. In order to qualify for these competitions a team must do one of the following:
1) Finish in the top 2, 3, 4, or 5 (varying depending on coefficients, numbers of teams that qualify, for each country) of the top league.
2) Win the domestic cup
3) Win the League Cup (if that country allocates continental qualification to the winner)
4) Win the Champions League playoff (if the country uses one)
A continental competition is called the Champions League. There is a Champions League for every confederation (example: CONCACAF Champions League, UEFA Champions League, etc.). There are then 6 winners of these tournaments. These winners then qualify for the Club World Cup, and compete head-to-head for that title.
The winner of the Club World Cup was most recently Bayern Munich of Germany. They qualified by winning the UEFA Champions League of 2013, which they qualified for by winning the Bundesliga (Germany’s top flight league) in 2012. This team also happened to win both the domestic trophy in Germany (the DFB Pokal) that year, completing what is known as a Treble. The Treble is one of the biggest honors a club team can win.
The format that soccer uses serves to unite the world politically via competition in the sport that unites the world on a cultural level.