The Fascinating Formats of Europe’s Top Cup Competitions: Copa del Rey, FA Cup, Coppa Italia, DFB-Pokal, and Coupe de France

The Cup: A Tale of Inequality

The Entry of the ‘Firsts’

The official first round of the Cup, excluding the Super Cup participants, has exposed a stark inequality. According to ‘Mister Chip’ data, the 16 ‘LaLiga EA Sports’ teams that have participated in the Cup have scored 71 goals and conceded only three.

Is this fair? Do these one-sided victories make sense? Let’s take a closer look at the Cup formats of the five major leagues and decide which one is preferable.

The Spanish Cup, known as Copa del Rey, adopted its current format in 2019. A total of 116 teams, excluding subsidiaries, compete in this tournament. In addition to the 42 First and Second division clubs, it includes the top five teams from the two groups of 1 RFEF, the top five teams from the five groups of 2 RFEF, and the champions and the seven best second-placed teams from the 18 groups of 3 RFEF. The four semi-finalists of the Federation Cup and the 10 winners of the interterritorial qualifiers contested by 20 Regional clubs also participate.

The Madrid party, from within: “What an animal you are!”

The format of the Spanish Cup is straightforward. It is played in a single match, except for the semi-finals, which are played over two legs. The matches take place at the stadium of the lower division team, unless both teams are from the same division, in which case a lottery determines the venue. However, there are two exceptions: 1) The four participants in the Super Cup enter the tournament in the round of 16. 2) The ‘LaLiga EA Sports’ teams enter the so-called 1st round, which is not actually the first round, and a conditional draw is held to favor lower division teams.

Copa del Rey

  • Founded: 1903
  • Number of participants: 116
  • Number of rounds: 8
  • Club with the most titles: Barcelona (31)
  • Current champion: Real Madrid (20)
  • Number of teams that have won the Cup: 16

The FA Cup: The Oldest Club Competition

The FA Cup proudly claims to be the oldest club competition in the world. It was founded in 1871 and is known for its accessibility. The competition starts with 729 teams, although only 124 teams make it to the final phase.

The FA Cup consists of eight rounds, and Premier League clubs enter the competition in the third round. The draw is unbiased, with the home team determined by a simple coin toss. All matches are played in a single match format, except in the case of a draw in the first match, where a replay is held at the visiting team’s stadium. If the tie persists after 90 minutes, extra time and penalties are used to determine the winner.

From the quarter-finals onwards, all matches, including the final, are played at the neutral ground of the new Wembley Stadium.

FA Cup

  • Founded: 1871
  • Number of participants: 124
  • Number of rounds: 8
  • Club with the most titles: Arsenal (14)
  • Current champion: Manchester City (7)
  • Number of teams that have won the Cup: 44

The Italian Cup: A Classic and Closed Competition

The Italian Cup, also known as Coppa Italia, continues to be the most ‘classic’ Cup in Europe. In the 2023-24 edition, only 44 teams participate, including 20 from Serie A, 18 from Serie B, and six from Serie C.

Serie A teams enter the competition in a staggered manner. In the second round, which takes place in early August, the teams that finished from 9th to 20th place in the previous season participate. The top eight teams from Serie A do not enter the tournament until the round of 16.

The entire Coppa Italia is played in a single match format, except for the semi-finals, which are played over two legs.

Italian Cup

  • Founded: 1922
  • Number of participants: 44
  • Number of rounds: 7
  • Club with the most titles: Juventus (14)
  • Current champion: Inter (9)
  • Number of teams that have won the Cup: 16

The DFB-Pokal: A Democratic Cup

The DFB-Pokal, the German Cup, has 64 participants. It includes the 18 teams from the Bundesliga, the 18 teams from the Second Division, and the top four teams from the Third Division. Additionally, it features the 21 champions of the regional cups (Verbanspokal) and three other places designated to the three regional Federations with the largest number of men’s teams: Bavaria, Lower Saxony, and Westphalia.

All teams, including those from the Bundesliga, enter the competition from the first round in early August. In the first round, a draw is made with two pots to encourage lower-ranked teams to face higher-ranked ones. From the second round onwards, it is a pure draw with a small nuance regarding the field factor. If an amateur or Third League team faces a professional team from the First or Second League, the game is played at the amateur team’s home ground. All rounds are played in a single match format, and in the event of a tie, there is no replay. The winner is determined by overtime and penalties.


  • Founded: 1935
  • Number of participants: 64
  • Number of rounds: 6
  • Club with the most titles: Bayern (20)
  • Current champion: RB Leipzig (2)
  • Number of teams that have won the Cup: 26

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One Response

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this article exploring the unique and captivating formats of Europe’s top cup competitions. It’s fascinating how each tournament, be it Copa del Rey, FA Cup, Coppa Italia, DFB-Pokal, or Coupe de France, brings its own charm and excitement to the table. From giant-killings to intense local rivalries, these competitions truly showcase the heart and soul of European football.

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