There are various professional leagues all around the world, where teams compete at different skill levels. Leagues are groups of teams that compete against each other to crown one team the champion. Games happen over weeks or months, which constitutes a season.
Among the thousands of soccer competitions that take place every year, listed below are the biggest and most recognizable soccer tournaments and leagues.
Domestic Leagues List
Domestic leagues are soccer competitions involving teams from the same nation. Some of the most recognizable domestic leagues in the world are the English Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), and La Liga (Spain). Read on to learn about the most popular domestic leagues in the world.
- English Premier League (EPL)
- La Liga
- Liga MX
- Ligue 1
- Major League Soccer
- Serie A
The Bundesliga is the highest professional soccer league in Germany. Notable teams include Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Bayern Munich has won the Bundesliga a record 24 times and continues to be the team to beat in the Bundesliga. Bundesliga has a current US television contract with Fox Sports.
Like many countries, the Bundesliga has a promotion and relegation system. The bottom two finishing teams are relegated to the 2. Bundesliga. The top two teams from the 2. Bundesliga are subsequently promoted. The third-place finishing team from the 2. Bundesliga and the third to last finishing team from the Bundesliga play a two-round playoff to determine which team will play in the Bundesliga the following season.
Additionally, the Bundesliga has a certain number of automatic bids to the Champions League and Europa League. The top four teams automatically qualify for the Champions League, while teams finishing 5-7 in the standings are invited to the Europa League.
English Premier League (EPL)
The English Premier League (EPL, Premier League, Premiership) is the highest professional soccer league in England. The English Premier League is often referred to as the most competitive of the world’s top leagues. This is because there are usually six teams or so in title contention every season compared to other leagues where one or two clubs dominate every season. Manchester United currently holds the most titles with 20, but Liverpool is close behind with 19. Other notable teams include Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham.
The Premier League relegates the three last-placed teams every year to the EFL Championship, while three teams from the Championship are promoted. The top two finishers from the Championship are automatically promoted, while teams finishing 3-6 compete in a playoff for the final spot.
The Champions League reserves four spots for the top four teams from each season in the Premier League. Teams finishing 5-7 are invited to play in the Europa League.
Eredivisie is the top-flight of club soccer in the Netherlands and was founded in 1956. It features top teams in the world such as Ajax and PSV. While not as powerful as some of the other top European leagues, Eredivisie still produces teams that are extremely competitive in the UEFA Champions League.
Eredivisie follows a similar structure to other European domestic leagues when it comes to promotion and relegation. The last-place team in Eredivisie is relegated to the second-tier league and the first-place team in the second-tier league is promoted to Eredivisie. The second and third-lowest teams in Eredivisie also go to a playoff with top teams from the second-tier league to determine the following year’s league.
La Liga is the highest professional soccer league in Spain. This league is often considered the second most competitive and popular, behind the Premier League. Real Madrid has won La Liga 35 times, while rivals FC Barcelona have 26 victories. Two of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, held a famous rivalry while competing against one another for many years.
La Liga follows the same promotion and relegation system as the Premier League. The bottom three teams in La Liga are relegated to La Liga 2, while the top two teams from La Liga 2 are promoted. Finishers 3-6 in La Liga 2 compete in a playoff for the final spot in La Liga.
Like most of the other major soccer leagues, La Liga receives four automatic bids to the Champions League for their top four finishers. Subsequently, teams 5-7 are invited to the Europa League.
Liga MX is the top flight of club soccer in Mexico. Founded in 1943, Liga MX is one of the older professional domestic leagues in the world. It is also consistently the most popular domestic league in North America and is fourth in the world in terms of attendance.
The top four teams in Liga MX qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, which is the top club tournament in North and Central America. Liga MX also follows a similar promotion and relegation structure to other top domestic leagues, with the bottom teams being relegated.
Ligue 1 is the highest professional soccer league in France. While they may not hold the same prestige as some of the other national leagues, Ligue 1 is home to one of the best franchises in the world: Paris Saint-Germain. PSG co-holds the record for most Ligue 1 titles at 10 with AS Saint-Étienne. However, the latter has found much less success in recent years and has been relegated to Ligue 2. Other notable teams in Ligue 1 include Lyon, Marseille, and Monaco.
Ligue 1 follows a similar relegation format to the Bundesliga. The two teams with the least amount of points are automatically relegated to Ligue 2, while the top two teams from Ligue 2 are automatically promoted. Then, the third-place team from League 2 and the third-worst team from Ligue 1 play a two-leg playoff to determine who gets to play in Ligue 1.
Ligue 1 sends two teams to automatically qualify for the Champions League. The third-place team, however, is invited to Champions League qualification, meaning that they have to win a certain amount of games before making it to the group stage. Losers of this stage who make it to the playoffs are granted a spot in the Europa League. The fourth-place team from Ligue 1 is automatically granted a spot in the Europa League.
Major League Soccer (MLS)
Major League Soccer (MLS) is the highest professional soccer league in the United States. The MLS currently has 28 teams, but the league has rapidly expanded over the last decade. The LA Galaxy and D.C. United has the two highest championship win totals with five and four respectively.
The MLS is not among the top leagues in the world yet but is slowly gaining in popularity as well as talent. Several notable players have played some of their final seasons in the MLS recently including David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, and Kaká.
The MLS obtains five invites every season to the CONCACAF Champions League. Four of these teams come from the United States while one team must be located in Canada.
Serie A is the highest professional soccer league in Italy. Juventus has been far and away the most successful team in Serie A, with 36 total championships. Other notable teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan, both have 19 championships to their name.
Promotion for Serie A is a bit different than other leagues. The bottom three teams are relegated to Serie B based on point totals. The top two teams in Serie B are then promoted to Serie A automatically. For the final promotion spot, Serie B teams finishing 3-8 in the standings compete in a playoff to determine who will earn the final spot.
Like many of the other major European leagues, the top four finishers from Seria A are automatically invited to the Champions League. Additionally, finishers five and six in the standings are invited to the Europa League.
International Club Competitions List
International club competitions are multi-stage soccer tournaments featuring club teams from around the world. Most club competitions, such as the UEFA Champions League and CONCACAF Champions League, feature teams from a specific continent or association, while the FIFA Club World Cup features the best club teams from all over the world. Read on to learn more about the top international club competitions in soccer.
- CONCACAF Champions League
- Copa Libertadores
- FIFA Club World Cup
- UEFA Champions League
- UEFA Europa League
CONCACAF Champions League
The CONCACAF Champions League is a continental soccer tournament that features the top clubs from domestic leagues in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Teams earn direct qualification into the CONCACAF Champions League through performance in their domestic leagues and tournaments. The CONCACAF Champions League announced that they will be expanding the field to 27 teams starting in 2024.
Monterrey, of Mexico, has the most CONCACAF Champions League wins, with 5 total titles. América and Pachuca, also of Mexico, are tied for second place with 2 wins each.
The Copa Libertadores, also known as the CONMEBOL Libertadores, is the highest-level tournament in South American club football. Founded in 1960, the tournament matches 4 club teams from each country under the CONMEBOL banner until there is one winner left standing at the end of the final match. The winner automatically becomes eligible for both the FIFA World Cup and the Recopa Sudamericana.
The club with the most Copa Libertadores wins is Independiente (of Argentina), with 7 total wins. Boca Juniors, also of Argentina, follows closely behind with 6 wins.
FIFA Club World Cup
Since 2000, the FIFA Club World Cup has been a way for teams across the globe to compete, except by individual clubs rather than by consolidated national teams. To play, a team must typically win their continental club championship (AFC Champions League, CAF Champions League, CONCACAF Champions League, Copa Libertadores, OFC Champions League, UEFA Champions League). They then compete in an elimination tournament until one club is left as victor.
Real Madrid has won the most FIFA Club World Cups, with 4 total titles. Barcelona, another Spanish club, follows close behind with 3 titles.
UEFA Champions League
The UEFA Champions League is seen as the pinnacle of club soccer in Europe. Every year, the best clubs from each European league compete in a multi-stage tournament. Real Madrid, arguably the most successful club in all of soccer, has won the Champions League a record 14 times. 22 teams are automatically qualified for the group stage each year based on their finishing positions within their respective leagues.
The first stage of the Champions League is the qualification stage. From the qualification stage, ten teams will advance to the group stage to join the 22 automatic qualifiers. In the group stage, the 32 teams are separated into eight groups of four. Each team in the group plays each other twice. After all of the games are completed, the first and second-place teams from each group advance to the knockout stage.
The knockout stage follows a similar format to a 16-team single elimination bracket. Two teams are paired together, and they play legs, one at each team’s home venue to determine who moves to the next round until only two teams remain. Whoever wins the final game is declared the Champions League winner.
Real Madrid has by far the most UEFA Champions League titles, with 14 total wins. The closest contender is Milan with 7 wins as well as both Liverpool and Bayern with 6 wins each.
UEFA Europa League
The UEFA Europa League is very similar to the Champions League, except that it is usually played with teams that failed to qualify for the latter. Sevilla FC currently holds the most Europa League titles with six. Similar to the Champions League, the Europa League begins with a qualification process for the teams that do not automatically qualify for the group stage.
In 2021, the Europa League changed its format to reduce the group stage size from 48 to 32 teams. Once the 32 teams are finalized for the group stage, the teams are separated into eight groups of four. Each team in the group will play each other twice. Once this has concluded, the first-place teams from each group are automatically granted a spot in the knockout round. However, the second-place teams from each group do not automatically qualify. The eight second-place teams and the eight third-place teams from the Champions League group stage compete in a playoff to determine who advances to the next round.
Once the 16 teams are set, the knockout round begins as a single-elimination tournament. Each pairing will play two games in each round, one at each team’s home venue. Once there are two teams left, the final is played at a neutral site. This round is only one game, and the winner gets automatic qualification for next year’s Champions League.
The team with the most UEFA Europa League wins is Sevilla of Spain with 6 wins. Liverpool, Juventus, Inter, and Atlético all trail behind in second with 3 wins a piece.
International Tournaments List
International tournaments are multi-stage competitions between national teams representing a specific country. The biggest international soccer tournament is the FIFA World Cup. However, large international tournaments featuring the best national teams in a certain continent or association are also very popular. Read on to learn more about international soccer tournaments.
- Africa Cup of Nations
- CONCACAF Gold Cup
- Copa América
- UEFA European Championship
- FIFA World Cup
Africa Cup of Nations
The Africa Cup of Nations is commonly referred to as AFCON,and is the largest and most prestigious international soccer tournament in Africa. AFCON has been in existence since 1957,and features various African countries. Participating nations include Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and many more. The tournament is held every two years, during odd years due to its 1957 inaugural run.
Egypt is the most successful team in the history of AFCON, with seven titles. Additionally, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon is the all-time leading goal scorer with 18.
CONCACAF Gold Cup
The Gold Cup, commonly known as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, is the main soccer tournament for the countries governed by CONCACAF. These countries consist of nations in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Countries that participate in the Gold Cup include the United States, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, and many more. The Gold Cup, as it is known today, first took place in 1991 and has occurred biannually ever since.
The most successful country in the history of the Gold Cup is Mexico, with eight total title wins. The all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the Gold Cup is American forward Landon Donovan, who had a total of 18 goals in the Gold Cup.
The Copa América is the premier tournament for the nations of South America, hosted once every four years. The tournament has been around for more than a century, with the first Copa América held in 1916. The frequency in which the tournament is hosted has varied over its extensive history, but it has been set to be held once every four years since 2007.
Uruguay and Argentina are tied for the most successful countries in Copa América history, each with a total of 15 titles. The record for the most goals scored in Copa América history is shared between Norberto Méndez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17.
UEFA European Championship
The UEFA European Championship, more commonly referred to as the “Euros,” is an international soccer tournament that takes place in Europe every four years. As it only features 55 European associations and began in 1960, it is not as famous as the World Cup. Once a qualification process is completed, 24 teams are separated into six groups of four. The top two finishers from each group advance to the knockout round as well as the four best third-place teams. The knockout round then consists of a 16-team single-elimination tournament to decide an ultimate champion.
Germany and Spain share the record for most UEFA Euro Championship wins, with 3 titles each. They are followed closely behind by Italy and France, who both have 2 titles each.
FIFA World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is the largest soccer tournament in the world, garnering billions of viewers and tying the entire world into one athletic contest. The tournament features 32 teams (including the host) after the group stage has been decided. The World Cup has been taking place since 1930 and takes place once every four years. The tournament is run by FIFA, the globe’s leading governing body of soccer.
The most successful team in World Cup history is Brazil, with a total of five titles. However, the overall amount of total wins is a close race, with Germany and Italy both holding four total World Cup wins each. The all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history is German striker Miroslav Klose, with 16 goals scored.
The Olympic soccer tournament is one of the most watched soccer tournaments in the world, even though it only features players under the age of 23 and three overage players on each team. The tournament features 16 teams from the six major soccer confederations worldwide. The most successful teams in Olympic soccer history are Great Britain and Hungary, who each have won three times.