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The Primera División (Spanish pronunciation: [pɾiˈmeɾa ðiβiˈsjon]; English: First Division), named Superliga Argentina (English: Argentine Superleague) since the 2017–18 season, is a professional football league in Argentina, organised by the homonymous entity, that is administrated independently and has its own statute. Nevertheless, the Superliga is contractually linked with the main football body, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) that had been organising all the championships from 1893 to 2017.
The Primera División is the country's premier football division and is at the top of the Argentine football league system. It operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the Primera B Nacional (second division), with the teams placed lowest at the end of the season being relegated. The season runs from August to May.
In 1891 Argentina was the first country outside the United Kingdom to establish a football league. In the early years, only teams from Buenos Aires and Rosario were affiliated to the national association. Teams from other cities would join in later years.
The Primera División turned professional in 1931 when 18 clubs broke away from the amateur leagues to form a professional one. Since then, the season has been contested annually in four different formats and calendars. The league has been under its current format since the 2015 season.
The Argentine championship was ranked in the top 10 as one of the strongest leagues in the world (for 1 January 2015 – 31 December 2015 period) by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). Argentina placed 4th after La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and Bundesliga (Germany).
Format and teams
Main article: 2017–18 Argentine Primera División
There are 28 teams competing in the 2017–18 season, with all of them playing each other in a single round-robin tournament (a total of 27 rounds). Unlike previous editions, the "Fecha de Clásicos" was dismissed for the current season.
The winner of the "Superliga" is awarded with a trophy launched especially for the occasion. The cup was designed by renowned goldsmith Adrián Pallarols. Apart from the trophy for the winning team, commemorative medals were also launched to award their players.
As 2017–18 champion, Boca Juniors was the first team awarded with the Superliga trophy.
Relegation is based on an averaging system. At the end of the season, the four teams with the worst three-year averages are relegated, while the winner and runner-up of Primera B Nacional championship are promoted to Primera.
The Primera División champion gains a place to play the Supercopa Argentina v. the winner of Copa Argentina.
Main article: Qualifying method of Copa Libertadores in Argentina
As of 2017–18, five teams from Argentina are eligible to play the Copa Libertadores. The champion of Primera División automatically qualifies for the tournament. The other four teams best placed in the table at the end of the tournament (2nd to 5th) are also elegible to play the Cup. Teams placed 2nd to 4th in the table qualify to play the group stage while the team placed 5th will enter to the first stage of the competition.
For the Copa Sudamericana, six teams are eligible. Clubs placed 6th to 11th in the table at the end of the tournament, will play the cup.
Round-robin tournaments (1891–1966)The Copa Campeonato was the first trophy awarded by the AFA, then abandoned  and re-issued from 2013 to 2015.
In 1891 the Association Argentine Football League was established, with Alex Lamont of St. Andrew's Scots School as one of its board members. The AAFL was the first football league outside of the British Isles., to establish a football league. The first Primera División matches were played on 12 April 1891: Buenos Aires FC vs. St. Andrew's and Old Caledonians vs. Belgrano FC.
A single double round-robin tournament was played each year, and the team with the most points was crowned as champion, except for 1936, during that year the winners of Copa de Honor and the Campeonato played a match for the championship title. The single tournament arrangement lasted until 1966.
During this period, the traditional "big five" clubs, namely, Boca Juniors, River Plate, Independiente, Racing and San Lorenzo dominated Argentine football. No other team besides them had won the league championship in these 36 years. The most serious title challenge came from Banfield in 1951, when they gained the same points with Racing Club in the league table. However, they lost 1–0 in the two-legged first place playoffs and gave the title to Racing.
The averaging system for relegations was implemented for the first time in the 1957 championship, with Ferro Carril Oeste becoming the first team to be relegated under that system. Averaging continued until 1963, when the championship returned to its old format (with the worst placed teams being relegated). Nevertheless, there were no relegations until 1967 (with Unión (SF) and Deportivo Español being sent to Primera B after playing a relegation tournament contested by teams of First and Second divisions to define the promotions and relegations).
Metropolitano and Nacional (1967–1985)
In 1967, the single tournament format was abandoned and replaced by two championships in each year: the Metropolitano and the Nacional. The Metropolitano only allowed clubs competing the old tournament to participate, while the Nacional was open to teams from regional tournaments. The format of competition was also altered, with the double round-robin tournament replaced by the two-group championship Metropolitano and single round-robin Nacional in that year.
This change brought about a revolution in Argentine football, as small teams, like Estudiantes de La Plata at first, and Vélez Sarsfield, Chacarita Juniors and others in later years, broke down the hegemony of the five clubs who had won all the championships up to that date.
Between 1967 and 1969, the Metropolitano and Nacional had gone through several format changes. In the first three years, the Metropolitano was a two-group championship, with the best two teams from each group competing the semi-finals of the knock-out stage.
The six best teams of each group would advance to the Nacional, with four more teams coming from regional tournaments, to compete for the Nacional championship in a single round-robin format. The seventh and eighth team of each group, alongside four teams from regional tournaments, played the Promocional tournament, which, in 1969, was replaced by the Petit tournament contested without regional teams. The ninth to twelfth teams of each group entered the Reclasificatorio tournament to determine the relegating teams.
In 1970, the format of the Metropolitano and Nacional underwent a reform. Since that year, and until 1985, the Nacional had become a group tournament with playoffs, while the Metropolitano had been competed under a single or double round-robin system, except for the 1974, 1976 and 1979 edition, which were also contested as a group tournament with playoffs.
Despite the format change in 1970, teams still entered the Nacional championship, Petit tournament and Reclasificatorio tournament according to their rankings in the Metropolitano in that year. However, in 1971, the tournaments were separated. Teams did not enter the Nacional by finishing at the top ranks of Metropolitano. On the other hand, the Petit tournament and Reclasificatorio tournament were abandoned. The Metropolitano and Nacional became two truly individual tournaments. Although the old system was reused in 1972, the separation was instituted again in 1973 and was adopted throughout the remaining Metropolitano and Nacional era.
The Metropolitano was always played first, until the order of the tournaments was reversed in 1982.
After 20 years since the last time it had been used, the average system for relegations returned in the 1983 Metropolitano championship, two years after San Lorenzo was relegated. That year, River Plate finished 18° out of 19 teams and would have been relegated under the old system, along with Racing de Córdoba. The first teams to be relegated on average were Racing and Nueva Chicago.Boca Juniors was also struggling at that time and had a dismal 1984 season. These facts have led to speculation that the averaging system was instituted to minimize the chance of big teams being relegated.
European-styled seasons (1985–1991)
Following the advice of Argentina national football team's then coach Carlos Salvador Bilardo, the structure of play was modified in 1985. Traditionally, like other countries in Southern Hemisphere, football season began and ended according to the calendar year. However, upon the reform, European style season was adopted for the first time among all the South American countries. Moreover, instead of holding two championships every year, only one double round-robin tournament was contested, like football leagues in Europe. The team topping the table at the end of season was crowned the champion.
In 1985, after the Nacional was played, the Metropolitano was not held, while the new single tournament (1985/86) was played for the first time.
In 1988–89 season, three points were given to match winners. If a draw occurred, penalty shootout was taken place and the winner of the shootout would get two points while the loser still had one. This format was waived in the following season.
Apertura and Clausura (1991–2012)
Five years later, the single championship was split into two single-round tournaments, giving birth to the Apertura and Clausura arrangement. In 1991 the two champions played winner-take-all matches. This practice was very controversial, especially since one of the biggest teams Boca Juniors lost the finals against Newell's Old Boys, costing them their first official championship since 1981 despite an unbeaten run in the Clausura. In 1992 the game was held as well (this time between Newell's Old Boys and River Plate), but regardless of the result (which favored River Plate) both teams were awarded the title of Champion. After 1992, the practice was quickly abandoned, so that two champions (on equal footing) were crowned every season and no deciding game is played.
Originally, two points were given to match winners except the 1989/90 season. In 1995/96, the rule was changed and three points were given for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss since then.
Even though the current structure provides provincial teams a road to promotion, teams from the Buenos Aires-Rosario axis still dominate. Only one team from outside this axis has ever won a title (Estudiantes (LP), 5 times), and a reversal of this trend is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future.
Inicial and Final (2012–2014)
For the 2012–13 season, the Torneo Apertura and Clausura became "Torneo Inicial" and "Torneo Final," being disputed with the same format as before but proclaiming only one champion each season, unlike the last format that had two champions (Apertura and Clausura, respectively).
Before those changes, a controversial project for the 2012–13 season had been proposed: it consisted in a new tournament that would contain both the Primera División and Primera B Nacional teams: the former was not going to have any relegated team in its 2011–12 season and include sixteen teams from the latter, Primera B Nacional. The tournament would also include a team from the Primera B Metropolitana and one from the Torneo Argentino A, creating a thirty-eight team league. These changes were strongly opposed by the media and the people, and finally the tournament was called off. However, the project for the new format was successfully picked up starting from the 2015 season.
Main article: Copa Campeonato
Once Inicial and Final tournaments have finished, both winners had to play a match for the Copa Campeonato (familiarly known as Superfinal). The AFA had previously determined that the first edition (played in 2013) would be considered as a Primera División official title (2012-13 season), therefore Vélez Sarsfield awarded its 10th official championship after defeating Newell's.
Nevertheless, from the 2014 edition it was determined that the Superfinal would not be considered as a Primera División title but an official cup.
Due to this the 2015 and 2016 seasons were played as single tournaments with only one champion per season, the Copa Campeonato has not held since then.
2014–present: One tournament again and Superliga
Starting August 2014, the "Torneo de Transición" was held, with 20 teams participating (17 from the 2013–14 season and 3 promoted from the 2013–14 Primera B Nacional). No teams were relegated at the end of the championship.
In 2015 the format switched to a tournament with 30 teams. The first five clubs of the Zonas A & B of 2014 Primera B Nacional season promoted to the Primera División. Those 10 teams, with the addition of the 20 clubs currently participating in the top division, qualified to contest the next season.
That same year, the AFA announced the format for the next five seasons of the Primera División:
- In the first half of 2016, the league was contested between thirty teams. One team was relegated to and one team was promoted from Primera B Nacional.
- From August 2016 to June 2017, the league was contested between thirty teams. Four teams were relegated to and two teams were promoted from Primera B Nacional.
- From August 2017 to June 2018, the league will be contested between twenty-eight teams. Four teams will be relegated to and two teams will be promoted from Primera B Nacional. This season will be the first Superliga Argentina.
- From August 2018 to June 2019, the league will be contested between twenty-six teams. Four teams will be relegated to and two teams will be promoted from Primera B Nacional.
The goal is to reduce back the quantity of teams to 20 in 2020.
Main article: List of Argentine football champions
Since the first championship held in 1891, 27 different clubs have won the Primera División title at least once. The most successful club is River Plate, with 36 titles. Other successful clubs are Boca Juniors with 33, Racing with 17, Independiente with 16 and San Lorenzo with 15.
Main article: Primera División Argentina topscorers
The all-time top scorer of Primera División Argentina is Paraguayan forward Arsenio Erico with 295 goals. Most players on the all-time top scorers table had their golden age before the 1970s, with all of the top five all-time scorers having retired before 1973. The only player retired after this year in the top twenty list is Martín Palermo, who played for Estudiantes (LP) and Boca Juniors in Primera División.
Records and facts
Main article: Records of the Argentine Primera División
Main article: List of Argentine Primera División broadcasters
In Argentina, matches are broadcast by American companies Fox Sports and Turner, which signed a contract for 5 years where both companies agreed to pay A$ 3,200 million per year. Local company Torneos, who was formerly the official broadcaster of the Argentine championship from 1985 until 2009, will take over the content production of the games for Fox and La Corte will handle content production for Turner while Cablevisión, DirecTV and Telecentro will be the TV operators.
Until the agreement with Fox and Turner was signed, Argentine football matches were broadcast nationally by El Trece, Telefe, America TV and Channel 7. Games were free in Argentina from 2009 to 2016, when the National Government and AFA decided rescind the agreement. The Government paid A$ 9,500 millions for 7 years.
The league attracts television audiences beyond South America and Spain. The matches are broadcast in over 80 countries; ESPN (one match per week), Fox Sports (two matches per week) and TyC Sports (eleven matches per week) broadcast live Argentine Primera División matches in Latin America. In the United States, the matches are broadcast on TyC Sports (six matches per week). BeIN Sports broadcasts the games live in France, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and MENA regions. ITV showed highlights on a regional basis with the introduction of overnight broadcasting in 1988-89. Channel 5 showed highlights from 1999-2003, while Premier Sports showed live games across 2011 and 2012.
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