Portuguese Football League (Primeira Liga)

Published: 08/10/2013

“Primeira Liga” (First League) is the top flight of Portuguese football leagues. It consists of 16 teams that compete from August through May. At the end of each season, the two lowest placed teams are relegated to the “Segunda Liga” (Second League), with the top two there coming up to replace them. According to UEFA rankings, Primeira Liga is #5 among all leagues in Europe, based upon results achieved over the past five years.

Since 2010, the league has been under the dual sponsorship of Sagres beer and Portugal’s leading pay-TV services provider, so its official title has become “Liga ZON Sagres.” Similarly, the Segunda Liga has been officially renamed “Liga Revolução by Cabovisão” after its current sponsor, Cabovisão, a Portuguese private telecommunications operator.

An Era of Many Milestones

In the second half of the 19th century, a group of young Portuguese men educated in the English public school system joined with British expatriates to bring football to Portugal, leading to the first recorded match held in Cascais in October 1888. By the opening of the 20th century, organised football began to emerge, and the Associação de Futebol de Lisboa was established in 1910 as the country’s first regional association. Its three founding clubs were Sport Clube Campo de Ourique, Sport Clube Império and Sport Lisboa e Benfica. Soon, additional local associations formed in Portalegre and Porto.

By 1914, the three associations banded together to form a national body, initially called the União Portuguesa de Futebol (UPF). An application to join FIFA was provisionally accepted that same year and formally confirmed in 1923. Three years later, the UPF changed its name to Federação Portuguesa de Futebol (FPF), and by 1934 the first experimental Primeira Liga was created with a round-robin format to determine its first champion. The 1934-35 title was won by FC Porto (est. 1893), with Sporting Clube de Portugal (est. 1906) as runners up.

In 1938, the first Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) was organised as a national knockout tournament, replacing the Campeonato de Portugal (Championship of Portugal) competition held since 1922. Also in 1938, the Primeira Liga became known as the “Primeira Divisão,” a name it would retain until 1999 before reverting back to the original and then the start of sponsored naming rights in 2002. Meanwhile, the FPF would become a founder member of UEFA in 1954.

From the league’s inception, it was clear that three clubs would dominate. Porto FC has gone on to win 27 league titles and 16 Portuguese Cups. They have been surpassed only by SL Benfica (est. 1904) with a record 32 titles and 24 cups, while Sporting CP continues to chase them both, winning 18 league titles and 15 cups. Indeed, the trio’s stranglehold on Portuguese professional football has been so complete that only two other clubs have ever won the league championship—CF Os Belenenses in 1945-46 and Boavista FC in 2000–01.

On Europe’s Biggest Stage

The exploits of Portugal’s “big three” outside the national boundaries have also been exceptional. SL Benfica won back-to-back European Champion Clubs’ Cups, defeating FC Barcelona 3-2 in the 1961 final and Real Madrid CF 5-3 the following season. Sporting CP beat MTK Budapest 1-0 to take the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964. And Porto FC took the 1987 European Cup, downing FC Bayern München 2-1, before going on to win the UEFA Super Cup over AFC Ajax.

In the new millennium, Porto FC triumphed over Celtic FC 3-2 to win the 2002/03 UEFA Cup. They then went on to victory in the 2004 UEFA Champions League, taking the title with a 3-0 win over AS Monaco FC. So powerful has this northern Portuguese team grown, only two of the most recent Primeira Liga championships eluded them.

So it happens that, going into the 2013-14 season, Porto FC are once again the defending champions. Relegated to the second tier were Moreirense and Beira Mar, while Segunda Liga champions Belenenses and runner-ups Arouca FC were promoted. The other 13 clubs in the hunt for Primeira Liga glory are Académica, SL Benfica, Braga, Estoril, Gil Vicente, Marítimo, Nacional, Olhanense, Paços de Ferreira, Rio Ave, Sporting CP, Vitória de Guimarães and Vitória de Setúbal,

Published on: 08/10/2013

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