Is there 2 legs in semi finals?

The short answer is yes, there are 2 legs in semi finals of most major football (soccer) competitions. The semi finals stage of a tournament usually consists of 2 matches between the 4 remaining teams, with each team playing a home and away leg against their opponent.

What is a Semi Final?

A semi final is the stage in a competition or tournament that comes before the final. In football, when there are 4 teams remaining in a tournament, they will compete in the semi finals to determine the 2 teams that will advance to the final.

The semi finals consist of 2 matches, with each match being contested over 2 legs – 1 leg at each team’s home stadium. For example, if the semi final draw pairs Team A vs Team B and Team C vs Team D, the semi final schedule would look like:

  • First Leg: Team A vs Team B
  • First Leg: Team C vs Team D
  • Second Leg: Team B vs Team A
  • Second Leg: Team D vs Team C

The winner of each semi final, determined by aggregate score over the two legs, advances to the final.

Why are Semi Finals 2-Legged?

There are a few key reasons semi finals in major football competitions have a 2-legged format:

  • Home and Away Format: Having 2 legs allows each team to play one game at their home stadium in front of their fans. This makes the ties more equitable.
  • More Exciting: The format adds drama and suspense since the tie is played over 2 closely contested matches.
  • Better Determination of Winner: The aggregate score over 180+ minutes of action reduces the chance of fluke results and gives a better sense of which team performed better over both legs.
  • Financial Benefit: Two legs generates more revenue from ticket sales and broadcasting rights compared to a single match.

The home and away format provides an advantage to the team with the better aggregate score across both legs. If the aggregate score is tied after full time of the 2nd leg, extra time and penalties may be required to determine the winner.

Competitions with 2-Legged Semi Finals

Some of the major football competitions that have 2-legged semi finals include:

  • FIFA World Cup
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League
  • UEFA European Championships
  • Copa America
  • AFC Champions League
  • CONCACAF Champions League
  • English FA Cup
  • Spanish Copa del Rey
  • German DFB-Pokal

The away goals rule is typically in effect for these competitions, where away goals are used as the tiebreaker if the aggregate score is level after full time of the 2nd leg. For example, if the aggregate was 3-3 but Team A had scored 2 away goals to Team B’s 1, Team A would advance.

Are There Any Instances of 1-Legged Semi Finals?

While 2-legged semi finals are standard, there are some exceptions where tournaments have used single-match semi finals:

  • FIFA World Cup: From 1934 to 1982, the World Cup had single-match semi finals at a neutral venue decided in regular time or extra time/replays. It changed to 2-legged in 1986.
  • Olympic Football: The semi finals are one match since venue changes are not feasible.
  • UEFA Super Cup: A single match hosted at a neutral venue.
  • Spanish Super Cup: Home and away legs for the semi finals were replaced by a Final Four format in 2019.
  • Domestic Cups: In some domestic cups like the English League Cup, single match semi finals are used for logistical reasons.

But in general, across most major football tournaments, 2-legged semi finals are the standard.

Analysis of Key Semi Finals

Some all-time classic semi final ties in tournaments like the World Cup and Champions League help demonstrate the drama and excitement the 2-legged format can generate:

1970 World Cup: Italy vs West Germany

The first leg in Milan ended in a 1-1 draw. In the return leg in Mexico City, Italy took a 1-0 lead but Germany equalized in the 90th minute to force extra time. Germany then scored twice in extra time to win 3-1 (4-3 on aggregate). This “Game of the Century” proved a 2-legged tie could deliver unbelievable drama.

1984 European Championships: France vs Portugal

The first leg ended in a thrilling 3-2 win for France. In the second leg, Portugal held a 1-0 halftime lead and a 2-0 lead on aggregate before France stormed back with 5 second half goals to advance 7-4 on aggregate after a crazy 5-0 win.

1999 Champions League: Manchester United vs Juventus

Manchester United lost the first leg 1-0 in Italy but turned it around at home, winning 3-2 to advance on aggregate. Their dramatic 2-goal comeback in the final minutes exemplified why the 2-legged format makes for such entertaining viewing.

2005 Champions League: AC Milan vs PSV Eindhoven

A classic back and forth tie ended 3-3 on aggregate after full time in the second leg. PSV went through on away goals after a tense half hour of extra time with no scoring, with the narrow margin after two tight games showing the fine margins of the format.

2019 Champions League: Tottenham vs Ajax

After losing the first leg 1-0 away, Tottenham were 2-0 down on aggregate at halftime of the home second leg before Lucas Moura scored a dramatic hat trick to win 3-2 and advance on away goals. It demonstrated how a tie is never over until full time of the second leg.

These examples of thrilling historic comebacks and drama-filled matches illustrate why the 2-legged format often provides very entertaining semi final ties in major competitions.

Advantages of 2-Legged Semi Finals

Some of the key advantages of having home and away legs for semi finals include:

  • More exciting for fans, players, and viewers due to the evolving narrative over two matches
  • Gives teams a chance to recover from one poor performance
  • Allows tactical adjustments between the legs
  • Produces more revenue from two matches instead of one
  • Allows each team to play once at home with their supporters
  • Reduces chance of flukes and gives better sense of the superior team

Disadvantages of 2-Legged Semi Finals

There are also some downsides to having two-legged semi finals:

  • Increases fixture congestion for players
  • Possibly more injuries due to more minutes played
  • Higher travel demands on teams and supporters
  • Possibility for anti-climactic second leg if first leg produces lopsided scoreline
  • Often the same teams with financial advantage end up advancing


While there are some disadvantages, 2-legged semi finals remain the standard format in major football tournaments like the World Cup and Champions League. The consensus among fans, players, coaches and administrators is that the advantages of more excitement, reduced chance of flukes, home advantage for both teams, and higher revenue outweigh the downsides. The extra drama and tactical intrigue produced by 180+ minutes of knockout football typically makes for a captivating semi final stage.

There have been legendary semi final ties across history that may not have occurred under a single match format. The next time you watch the semi finals of a major football competition, you can appreciate why organizers opted for 2 legs, which provides more entertainment and generally determines the better team most of the time. It allows for the possibility of comebacks and drama that wouldn’t occur in a single match. For such an important stage, 2 legs reduces randomness and makes it more likely the best teams will advance to the final.

Leave a Comment