Whilst winning a league title in any sport is seen as the crème de la crème of achievements, soccer has some of the most incredible individual tournaments in the world.
Both domestic and international soccer create encapsulating theater through the medium of tournaments, with knockout soccer one of the ultimate USP’s the sport has to offer.
In the domestic sphere, tournaments always present an opportunity for teams to get on a roll, win a handful of games and potentially snare a piece of silverware at the end of the campaign, regardless of how their league campaign may be panning out.
Meanwhile, international soccer tournaments are often seen as the pinnacle in any players career, and they have the capability to bring a nation to a standstill for 90 minutes.
In line with soccer as a sport, the number of tournaments on the international soccer playing calendar has grown exponentially through the generations and the array of soccer tournaments available is a smorgasbord for fans to get stuck into.
With such variety and wealth on a global scale, the debate is inevitably sparked as to which are the best soccer tournaments on the planet – with each competition making its own case to be the world’s best.
Here is a rundown of the top 10 soccer tournaments in the world:
1. FIFA World Cup
The piece de resistance of the soccer-playing world is and has always been the FIFA World Cup, which pits the best international teams on the planet against each other every 4 years.
A peruse down the list of previous FIFA World Cup winners is a mere indication of the level of prestige the World Cup is held in amongst players, fans, and soccer experts alike.
Broadly speaking, the FIFA World Cup format has remained the same over the years – with teams from around the world taking part in fiercely competitive qualification processes to reach the showpiece event.
Europe, South America, Oceania, Africa, Asia and CONCAF (North & Central America) all have their own qualification tournaments, with the top sides progressing to the FIFA World Cup finals.
A host nation is traditionally appointed to host the World Cup, with the most recent incarnation taking place in Russia in 2018 and the upcoming tournament to be held in Qatar in 2022.
Historically, anywhere between 16 and 24 sides have qualified for the World Cup, adding further weight to the argument that it is the pinnacle of the game – with a relatively small number of sides taking part.
One of the key developments for 2022 is the progression to 32 teams taking part in the tournament, something that it is hoped won’t dilute from the quality of the competition moving forwards.
Former winners of the FIFA World Cup include Brazil (5 times), Germany (4 times), Argentina, Italy, and France (all 2 times) – an indication of the prestige in which the event is held.
The soccer-playing fraternity grinds to an absolute halt for every FIFA World Cup, and it promises to be no different in Qatar in 2022.
2. UEFA Champions League
Whilst international football undoubtedly takes center stage every 4 years for the FIFA World Cup, the cut and thrust of annual club competitions are another selling point for soccer as a sport.
The UEFA Champions League pits the best club teams across Europe against each other, in season long format, which begins with a round-robin stage and progresses to the nail-biting knockout rounds.
Formally known as the European Cup, it is the ultimate club accolade in European soccer and the fascination for the competition across the continent shows no signs of slowing.
Front and center to the appeal of the Champions League is the recognizable format, which sees teams take on each other twice in the group stages, with the top 2 teams from each group reaching the knockout phase in the last 16.
Whilst it is a knockout competition from there on in, each fixture until the final is played over the best of 2 legs – presenting each team the opportunity to play at home and away.
Prevailing and winning in the Champions League certainly doesn’t require the grind associated with winning a league title, however by playing two games against each opponent, it is seen as the acid test of soccer formatting for competitions around the world.
Spanish giants Real Madrid have won the competition on a staggering 13 occasions, with other European heavyweights Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, AC and Inter Milan all having picked up the trophy on multiple occasions too.
It is also a cross to bear for some sides, with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Paris Saint-Germain never to have won the competition, testament to just how important the competition is amongst players and fans alike.
Europe is a soccer hotbed, and the UEFA Champions League is a ceremonious club competition like no other, making it arguably the biggest club soccer tournament in the world.
3. UEFA European Championships
Dovetailing every 4 years in conjunction with the FIFA World Cup is the UEFA European Championships.
International soccer within Europe remains as prominent as ever and the European Championships provides a platform for the biggest players in the world to showcase their talents.
24 teams from across the continent take part in the UEFA European Championships, which is a carnival of soccer culture and joy.
Whilst it perhaps doesn’t have the flair of the FIFA World Cup, the European Championships are fiercely contested and previous winners such as France, Italy, Germany, and Spain are all representative of the caliber of the competition.
Last played in 2021 (rearranged from 2020 due to COVID 19), the European Championships can sometimes give the impression of being the forgotten tournament within the soccer playing fraternity, but the standard of play is as high as it is anywhere else in the world.
4. Copa America
In a similar vein to the UEFA European Championships, the Copa America captures the imagination of a continent once every 4 years.
Held in South America, few soccer competitions the world over share the passion and flair on display at the Copa America and it remains one of the world’s premier sporting tournaments.
First held back in 1916, the Copa America is one of international soccer’s oldest competitions and the origins of the tournament continue to be called upon by modern-day soccer tournaments.
Uruguay and Argentina have dominated proceedings in South America, with an incredible 15 titles each, whilst Brazil have also won the title on 9 previous occasions.
Some of the biggest players in the history of the game have made a name for themselves at the Copa America, with Pele, Diego Maradona, and Lionel Messi just three of the biggest names to have excelled in the South American soccer championship.
Reshuffling in the world soccer calendar has lessened the wider impact of the Copa America on the world stage over the past few years but the competition remains as fierce as ever – exemplified by Argentina’s incredible tournament win in 2021.
5. UEFA Europa League
Over the past couple of generations, European soccer has been thrust to the forefront of the global game and the growing number of competitions on the continent is strengthening the game across Europe.
The UEFA Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup) remains one of the biggest competitions in world soccer – despite the fact it is technically the second tier in comparison to the UEFA Champions League.
Sides that drop out of the Champions League in the group stages, fall into the UEFA Cup, making the overall standard of play in the competition extremely high and it follows a very similar format to its older brother.
Teams take part in a round-robin (playing each other both home and away) before progressing to the knockout rounds (all played over two legs, except the final).
Domestically, qualification for the Europa League is seen as the competition for ‘also rans’, with the sides that finish outside of the Champions League places, plying their trade in the Europa League the following year.
However, the prestige of the tournament remains as strong as ever and with a major European trophy on offer every season, it is one of the biggest soccer tournaments in the world.
6. African Cup of Nations
International soccer tournaments bring the nations taking part to a standstill and this premise continues to remain the case with the African Cup of Nations.
Held bi-annually, AFCON pits the very best sides in African soccer against each other in a fast-paced, frenetic tournament at the start of the calendar year.
Observers of AFCON have noticed the huge development in skill level and playing tactics over the past few years in the African Cup of Nations and with continued investment in the African game, the overall standard and reach of soccer on the continent continues to grow.
Household names such as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have etched their name into soccer-playing history in Europe but with their rich traditions stemming from African soccer, the platform provided by the African Cup of Nations allows players to develop.
A hefty 54 teams enter the African Cup of Nations at the qualification stage, which is then whittled down to 24 for the tournament itself.
Previous winners of the competition include Nigeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, and current holders Senegal – a testament to just how competitive the African Cup of Nations is.
7. Copa Libertadores
The rich history of the game of soccer in South America continues to be felt across the world today and the biggest competition on the continent for club sides is the Copa Libertadores.
In much the same vein as the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores pits the very best sides in South America against each other each season – with the top teams in each domestic league qualifying for the competition.
Passionate fans and intra-country rivalries often dominate the landscape in the Copa Libertadores, with club sides from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have dominated the competition historically over the years.
With 47 teams taking part, from 10 different countries in South America, the Copa Libertadores is one of the most hotly contested soccer tournaments in the world and with global viewing figures on the rise, its stock continues to grow season in, season out.
8. The FA Cup
History plays a huge part in the mystique of most sporting competitions and the oldest club soccer competition in the world is the FA Cup.
Originating in England back in 1871, it has become the world’s flagship club soccer competition and it remains as pertinent within British soccer-playing society today as it ever has been.
The key appeal of the FA Cup to fans is the notion of a cup upset and with the draw devised so that any two teams can play each other, regardless of their league standing, there have been many famous instances of the underdogs prevailing in the FA Cup.
Progressions and finances in the game have seen the sides at the top of the tree pull away from those below them somewhat in recent years but there is a magic to the FA Cup that few other soccer tournaments in the world can compete with.
All of the biggest teams in English soccer have lifted the FA Cup, an indicator of just how important the competition is to the teams and the kingmakers at each club.
9. Copa del Rey
Following the same pattern, the Copa del Rey is the Spanish equivalent of the FA Cup and also presents club sides with an opportunity to etch themselves into Spanish soccer folklore.
First played in 1903, the Copa del Rey has been at the heart of soccer in Spain for well over a century and whilst the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona have inevitably dominated the honors boards, it is a competition that has the ability to spring surprises – much like its English cousin.
All of the teams in the Copa del Rey ply their trade-in Spanish league soccer but with no regulations attached to the draw, anybody could play anybody and amateur players turning up at the Nou Camp to take on the mighty Barcelona is not an uncommon sight.
League soccer continues to take precedence in Spain, which has lessened the impact the Copa del Rey has within a wider soccer-playing context in recent years, but most games are fiercely competitive and global audiences for the competition continue to grow.
10. UEFA Nations League
The newest tournament in the countdown is the UEFA Nations League, a competition that has been introduced to do away with the concept of international friendly fixtures.
Outside of the aforementioned major competitions such as the World Cup and European Championships, soccer fans became increasingly bemused at the sheer number of international friendlies players were undertaking – for seemingly no obvious reason other than to play a game of soccer, for their country.
UEFA addressed this trend and introduced the UEFA Nations League in 2018, presenting teams with a competitive format to undertake – which would also assist them in their quest to qualify for the major tournaments every four years.
One of the other issues it dealt with was the concept of a friendly game and teams were able to field competitive sides for each of the matches, with a discernible piece of silverware available at the end of the competition.
Portugal were the inaugural winners of the tournament back in 2019, with France picking up the trophy two years later and it has been an instant success within the European soccer-playing sphere.
As the prestige and format of the tournament evolves, the UEFA Nations League could well grow even further in years to come.