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Which is Latin America’s most complex championship?

March 4, 2009

The season is under way around Latin America which means various countries have had a chance to roll out new-look (or not so new) domestic championships.

As usual, it feels like there is a contest going on to devise the oddest format for a football tournament. Over the next few days, the Reuters soccer blog will present the various candidates for this year’s award for the strangest concept.

The conventional league system — where the teams play each other twice and the one with the most points wins the title — is simply too orthodox for most South America countries which instead use Byzantine formulas.

Where else can a team have the chance to win the title and get relegated at the same time or find themselves playing the same opponents up to seven times in a row at the end of the season?

At present, only Brazil operates the conventional league system — but even here, the domestic season is cluttered by a profusion of regional championships (one for each of the country’s 27 states) in which the first division sides also take part and a nationwide Copa Brasil which sends teams on 15-hour journeys across three time zones to play semi-professional opposition.

Before writing off the region as eccentric, though, be warned that the recent tendency has been for Europe to follow Latin America and make its tournaments more complex (look at the UEFA Cup) rather than vice-versa.

The Libertadores Cup had two clubs per country — often selected by dubious criteria — long before the Champions League, its European equivalent, opened its doors to second, third and fourth-placed teams.

Colombia also began squeezing an extra round of “derby” matches into its championship years before the Premier League even talked about its proposal for a39th game.

It is not hard to imagine certain Premier League clubs casting an envious eye over the relegation system used in Argentina and now copied in several other countries.

Here relegation is decided over three seasons by dividing the number of points won by each team by the number of games played. It was introduced in the 1980s specifically to reduce the possibility of the big clubs going down as the chances of them having three bad seasons in a row are almost negligible.

Next we’ll look at Peru’s wacky system.

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PHOTO: San Lorenzo’s Gonzalo Bergessio celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal against Tigre during their playoff match in Buenos Aires, Dec. 17. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

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