[OC] Unorthodox League Formats #3: The World's Most Elaborate Two-Horse Race

The average football enthusiast, following only the major leagues, might get the impression that a twenty-club double round-robin league is an unchangeable standard, set in stone since time immemorial. However, football is a very versatile sport; leagues and football federations all over the world won’t hesitate to tinker with their format, often with results that challenge human comprehension.

Today, we direct our attention to **Uruguay** — home to the most cattle heads *per capita* in the world, setting to famed French writer Alexandre Dumas’ less-known novels after he got tired of writing about exciting fencing adventures, motherland to world-renowned forward Antoine Griezmann, and land of brutal mudfights thinly disguised as football matches — and how the small country produced the world’s most intrincate two-horse race.

# [](#bar-1-midblue)[](#bar-1-white)[](#bar-1-gold) Campeonato Uruguayo de Primera División Profesional

Currently administered directly by the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF), the Uruguayan top-flight football league has been contested since 1900, making it one of the oldest in the world. Unhindered by world wars, it has instead been interrupted five times in the past by a federation schism, lack of funds, a civil war, and preparations for the premier World Cup.

The league format and rules, however, have been in constant change since the 1990s. An Apertura and Clausura system was adopted in 1994; clubs from outside Montevideo were allowed admission into top-flight in 1999; A move from a February-December season to an August-June one was performed in 2005/06 and reversed in 2015/16; and, most bafflingly, a third, mid-season mini-tournament was introduced in 2017. The league, once contested within the confines of a dull 13-club double round-robin system, slowly morphed into the beautiful, chaotic *pièce de résistance* it is today.

## Format

Having adopted the current format in the 2017 season, the Uruguayan Primera División is contested by sixteen sides, although El Tanque Sisley’s automatic relegation in 2018 due to outstanding debts forced the league to adopt an awkward solution that season: scheduled matches against the Florida side were instead credited as 0:0 walk-over wins for their opponents. CONMEBOL’s expansion of its continental cups in 2017 awarded Uruguay four Copa Libertadores berths — two for the group stage, two for preliminary stages — and four other Copa Sudamericana berths.

Season kicks off early in the year as clubs contest the Torneo Apertura between late February and early June. This stage consists of a simple round-robin tournament. Later, between mid-September and early December, the Torneo Clausura is contested in much the same format. To win either tournament, while not considered a proper title, is still a major feat for smaller sides, as demonstrated by Plaza Colonia as the recently-promoted club lost only once to finish first in the 2016 Torneo Clausura.

Following continental tradition, should either tournament finish with two clubs tied in points at the top of the table, the first place is awarded not through ordinary criteria, but through a tiebreaker match at a neutral ground. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not an ordinary event: before Nacional beat Peñarol 2:0 to confirm its 2019 Torneo Clausura triumph, its last occurrence was in 2008, as Nacional finished with two less goals than Danubio on goal difference but usurped the Torneo Apertura first place with a 2:1 triumph over them.

The Uruguayan Primera División’s most unique feature, however, is the Torneo Intermedio. In a country with no established cup competition (until this year, that is, as the Copa Uruguay is set to be held for the first time in 2020), the Intermedio was established in 2017 to add more fixtures to the season from the previous 30 contested by top-flight clubs not taking part in any continental cups.

In the Torneo Intermedio, the sixteen sides are divided according to their Torneo Apertura positions (even-placed teams in one group, odd-placed teams on the other); between July and September, teams will face other sides from the same group in a single round-robin, and the top-placed clubs from each group will contest a match between them at a neutral ground to crown the Torneo Intermedio champions.

Amidst all this, an annual table is kept, and all the results from all three tournaments count towards it. And, as though three tournaments isn’t enough, the Uruguayan Primera División has a final play-off to crown the ultimate champions, where the Apertura and Clausura face off at neutral ground for the right to contest the double-legged finals against the side in first place at the annual table.

It is, naturally, a normal occurrence that the annual table champions are also either the Apertura or the Clausura champions (or even both), creating awkward situations: in fact, there’s an ongoing five-edition streak in which the annual table winners contested the play-off semi-final as the Apertura/Clausura champions and won, and thus the grand finals haven’t been contested since 2013/14 (curiously, the last year neither Nacional nor Peñarol won either tournament).

With the Uruguayan Primera División champions confirmed, there’s the matter of continental spot allocation left. The winners and the runners-up are granted Copa Libertadores group stage berths; the Torneo Intermedio champion and the occasional Apertura/Clausura champion which didn’t finish as the league runners-up secure Copa Sudamericana berths. The remaining Copa Libertadores preliminary stages and Copa Sudamericana berths are granted to clubs according to their annual table position. Funnily enough, the last Copa Libertadores berth may prove to be a poisoned chalice, as opposition in the Copa Sudamericana is often easier and the prize money difference is barely significant.

And, of course, as three clubs are promoted from the second division, three must be relegated. The Uruguayan Primera División method to relegate teams is, of course, not ordinary: a separate Promedios table is kept to account for each team’s average points-per-game over the last two seasons, and the three sides with the worst performance over that period are relegated. This, of course, yields surprising results: Torque, which finished the 2018 season in an respectable 11^(th) position at the annual table, were relegated as 12^(th)-placed Fénix, 14^(th)-placed Boston River and 15^(th)-placed Rampla Juniors had all had performances decent enough in 2017 to keep them up.

## 2019 Season

The 2019 Uruguayan Primera División crowned Nacional as champions and had Peñarol finish as runners-up, but in everything else it was a fairly unpredictable season.

# | Club | MP | W | D | L | GF | GA | GD | Pts.
–: | :– | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-:
**1** | **Peñarol** | **15** | **9** | **4** | **2** | **27** | **11** | **+16** | **31**
2 | Fénix | 15 | 8 | 4 | 3 | 36 | 26 | +10 | 28
3 | Nacional | 15 | 7 | 6 | 2 | 32 | 17 | +15 | 27
4 | Cerro Largo | 15 | 8 | 3 | 4 | 23 | 12 | +11 | 27
5 | Danubio | 15 | 8 | 3 | 4 | 22 | 17 | +5 | 27

The 2019 Torneo Apertura saw an unassuming Fénix side, which had only narrowly avoided relegation in 2018, contend for the title until the bitter end, with a decisive 13^(th)-matchweek loss to Poñarol dramatically featuring [an offside goal ruled legal](https://youtu.be/jSgjPAjLtRU?t=180). Likewise, Cerro Largo presented strong performances for their first season in top-flight since 2013/14.

# | Club | MP | W | D | L | GF | GA | GD | Pts.
–: | :– | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-:
**1** | **River Plate** | **7** | **4** | **3** | **0** | **7** | **3** | **+4** | **15**
2 | Nacional | 7 | 4 | 2 | 1 | 13 | 6 | +7 | 14
3 | Progreso | 7 | 2 | 4 | 1 | 9 | 7 | +2 | 10

# | Club | MP | W | D | L | GF | GA | GD | Pts.
–: | :– | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-:
**1** | **Liverpool** | **7** | **6** | **0** | **1** | **18** | **5** | **+13** | **18**
2 | Cerro Largo | 7 | 5 | 1 | 1 | 11 | 5 | +6 | 16
3 | Plaza Colonia | 7 | 4 | 1 | 2 | 9 | 7 | +2 | 13

The 2019 Torneo Intermediario saw neither Nacional nor Peñarol top either group, with strong showings from Liverpool and River Plate, which had finished the Torneo Apertura in 15^(th) and 8^(th), respectively, and a very good follow-up from Cerro Largo. The Intermediario final, held at Estadio Centenario, saw Liverpool bring the trophy home after the two sides drew 2:2 after extra time and decorated midfielder Sebastián Píriz missed the last penalty for River Plate after they were ahead in the shoot-out.

# | Club | MP | W | D | L | GF | GA | GD | Pts.
–: | :– | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-:
**1** | **Nacional** | **15** | **11** | **1** | **3** | **27** | **10** | **+17** | **34**
**2** | **Peñarol** | **15** | **10** | **4** | **1** | **21** | **10** | **+11** | **34**
3 | Progreso | 15 | 9 | 4 | 2 | 22 | 14 | +8 | 33
4 | Plaza Colonia | 15 | 9 | 2 | 4 | 16 | 9 | +7 | 29
5 | Cerro Largo | 15 | 8 | 2 | 5 | 22 | 17 | +5 | 26

Progreso, finishing only one point behind Nacional and Peñarol, were the 2019 Torneo Clausura’s most surprising side, led by former goalkeeper and Uruguay international Leonel Rocco. Their loss against Nacional and draw against Peñarol meant they were unable to draw points from their close competitors, but still tipped the balance as these results meant Nacional, initially dragging behind, drew level with Peñarol and forced a tiebraker match. In a match [tainted by gross trophy mishandling](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KUzfy6kqPo), Nacional beat Peñarol 2:0 and set the stage for the final play-offs.

# | Club | MP | W | D | L | GF | GA | GD | Pts.
–: | :– | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-: | :-:
[**1**](#bar-1-gold) | **Nacional** | **37** | **22** | **9** | **6** | **72** | **33** | **+39** | **75**
[2](#bar-1-gold) | Peñarol | 37 | 21 | 11 | 5 | 57 | 28 | +29 | 74
[3](#bar-1-green) | Cerro Largo | 37 | 21 | 6 | 10 | 56 | 34 | +22 | 69
[4](#bar-1-green) | Progreso | 37 | 17 | 12 | 8 | 57 | 46 | +11 | 65
[5](#bar-1-skyblue) | Liverpool | 37 | 16 | 11 | 10 | 61 | 47 | +14 | 59
[6](#bar-1-skyblue) | Plaza Colonia | 37 | 16 | 8 | 13 | 40 | 37 | +3 | 56
[7](#bar-1-skyblue) | River Plate | 37 | 13 | 12 | 12 | 41 | 51 | -10 | 51
[8](#bar-1-skyblue) | Fénix | 37 | 13 | 9 | 15 | 60 | 63 | -3 | 48

[Copa Libertadores](#bar-12-gold)
[Copa Libertadores preliminary stages](#bar-12-green)
[Copa Sudamericana](#bar-12-skyblue)

With Nacional crowned as Clausura champions and placing first in the annual table, they only needed a single win against Peñarol in the play-off semi-finals and, [as goalkeeper heroics and a goal born out of a deflected cross secured a 1:0 win](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLYonM1RNp0), they were crowned the 2019 Uruguayan Primera División champions.

Strong campaigns in Apertura, Intermedio, and Clausura resulted in continental berths for Cerro Largo, Progreso, and Fénix, while more traditional sides in Uruguayan football, such as Montevideo Wanderers, Defensor, and Danubio had an off-year and won’t feature in the Copa Sudamericana as usual.

# | Club | 2018 MP | 2018 Pts. | 2019 MP | 2019 Pts. | Total MP | Total Pts. | Avg. PPG
——- | ——- | ——- | ——- | ——- | ——- | ——- | ——- | —
11 | Cerro | 37 | 59 | 37 | 33 | 74 | 92 | 1.243
12 | Fénix | 37 | 43 | 37 | 48 | 74 | 91 | 1.230
13 | Boston River | 36 | 37 | 37 | 48 | 73 | 85 | 1.164
[14](#bar-1-red) | Racing | 37 | 47 | 37 | 37 | 74 | 84 | 1.135
[15](#bar-1-red) | Rampla Juniors | 37 | 37 | 37 | 35 | 74 | 72 | 0.973
[16](#bar-1-red) | Juventud | – | – | 37 | 32 | 37 | 32 | 0.865

[Relegation](#bar-12-red)

Racing paid the ultimate price for a disastrous 10-point campaign in the 2018 Torneo Apertura and ended a 12-season consecutive run in top-flight, while Rampla Juniors weren’t so lucky as the previous year and Juventud, unlike Cerro Largo and Plaza Colonia, weren’t as prepared for promotion.

# [#1.](https://www.reddit.com/r/soccer/comments/6pgk70/a_nonexhaustive_list_of_unorthodox_league_formats)

### [](#bar-1-black)[](#bar-1-gold)[](#bar-1-red) Belgian Eerste klasse A

### [](#bar-1-skyblue)[](#bar-1-white)[](#bar-1-skyblue) Brazilian Campeonato Carioca

### [](#bar-1-red)[](#bar-1-white)[](#bar-1-red) Peruvian Campeonato Descentralizado

# [#2.](https://www.reddit.com/r/soccer/comments/a7n4wg/oc_unorthodox_league_formats_around_the_world_2/)

### [](#bar-1-red)[](#bar-1-yellow)[](#bar-1-green) Bolivian División Profesional

6 COMMENTS

  1. Great post and great read fella, even if it did take a couple of goes for me to make sure i fully understood the mad league format!
    Couldn’t imagine being in a relegation battle and having to keep track of the average points required to stay up! Well, the relegation battle bit i could imagine…

  2. As soon as I saw the title I though “oh man, people should read about our local tournament, they have no idea of just how insane it is”.

    Great write up! If anybody is up for even more ridiculousness you should know that the definition of the anual table was a single game due to Nacional doing well, but Peñarol winning one of those games would have seen the clausura + anual definition consist of like 3 (4?) games between the same two teams across a couple of weeks. Madness. Specially considering that those derbies (albeit great from an atmosphere perspective) normally feature very poor football.

    But all that said, if we had a single league season nobody would ever win anything outside of the big two, so the format is positive for spectacle and for fans of the other teams. Happy they’re introducing a cup competition now with also teams from the rest of the football pyramid, should be fun.

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