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Latin American complexities — Part three: Mexico
This is the fourth instalment in our look at the wacky world of Latin American championships having started with an introduction and then analysed Peru’s interesting league system and moved on to Uruguay.
Today, we’ve reached Mexico and it’s a goody.
Mexico has some of the finest stadiums in Latin America and pays some of the highest wages. It is also notable for having a system in which the championship’s best team repeatedly fails to win the title.
Like several countries, Mexico holds two championships per season, the Apertura and Clausura. There is no overall champion.
Each championships consists of a qualifying stage follow by a knockout stage, known as the Liguilla.
In the qualifying stage, the 18 teams play each other once — but are curiously divided into three groups. The top two teams in each group qualify for the quarter-finals while the two best teams from the remainder, regardless of group, also go through.
There are two major drawbacks: some groups often turn out to be much stronger than others and it is possible for a team to finish bottom of their group and have more points than the leaders of a different group; it is also common for the best team in the qualifying stage to then get unceremoniously dumped out in the quarter-finals.
Of the last five champions, only Pachuca also had the best overall record in the qualifying stage.
To complicate matters further, relegation is decided over three full seasons — which means six championships. This makes it theoretically possible for a team to win the championship and get relegated at the same time.
Tigres UANL came close to achieving this unique feat. They were relegated in 1996 and also qualified for the play offs, but lost to Necaxa in the quarter-finals.
PHOTO: Toluca’s Carlos Esquivel looks surprised during a Mexican League match against Tigres at the Universitario stadium in Monterrey November 8, 2008. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo