In the modern era of soccer, there is arguably no greater glory than winning the UEFA Champions League. Not even the World Cup, with its rich history of stars and epic clashes, can supersede the finely honed competition the European Cup has become.

With the juggernauts and champions of Europe’s greatest footballing nations vying for a spot in the final at London’s Wembley Stadium on May 25 for the UEFA Champions League 2013, there aren’t just goals and controversies to look forward too.

Here’s your guide to the road to the 2013 UEFA Champions League.

Stars and starlets

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Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo. Wayne Rooney. These masters of goal scoring don’t simply bury the ball in the net, they’re natural showmen—especially the flamboyant Ronaldo, with his epic step-overs and whiny, school-boy attitude. Whether it’s Paris Saint-Germain (Zlatan Ibrahimovic), or North London’s Arsenal (Jack Wilshere), there’s always at least one jackrabbit in the coaches’ hat that can turn the match around with a mazy slalom through a parked bus of defenders or a scalding strike from distance.

As stars fade however (Andrea Pirlo at Juventus comes to mind), new ones begin to shine. FC Barcelona’s Cristian Tello was barely a blip on the radar a season ago. Now, the 21-year-old has earned himself a space in the front line with his silly quick pace and eye for goal. Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski is scoring with more regularity than a senior on prom night and looks ready to put Shakhtar Donetsk to the test Wednesday for the first leg in the Ukraine.

It’s like the playoffs

And everyone loves the playoffs, right? Sixteen clubs remain from the group stage and many of the mighty still stand. Real Madrid faces off against Manchester United in what could prove to be the match up of the tournament up to this point. Both are in decent form but have shown weaknesses to fast and persistent attack. And both have quite a nice set of silverware in their club headquarters already.

Barcelona versus AC Milan should also prove to be pretty gnarly as Milan, struggling with new personnel, will have to play very defensively against Lionel Messi and possibly the greatest club side in history.

As the soccer world turns

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With all the hype Americans are subjected to regarding English soccer (it’s not that attractive, but that’s another topic), two of the most expensive clubs ever assembled, Chelsea and Manchester City, will be watching the competition from England. Lucky for them, they don’t have far to travel if they want to grab a seat for the final.

Speaking of cash-injected, Málaga travel to Portugal to face Porto next week. Recent beneficiaries to Qatari wealth and ownership, the pauper-to-prince Spanish club is making waves both domestically and internationally, while Porto’s model of farming and investing in underrated talent has never done the club wrong, actually winning it a continental trophy in 2004.

And don’t ever discount Ze Germans. Bayern Munich and Dortmund have what it takes to convince the world that the axis of European football might again be shifting. But there is a mountain of competition to climb before the summit at Wembley and many memories to be made.