A popular concept throughout South America the Chilean Primera División, which consists of 18 teams, is played over two championships; the Apertura and Clausura.
Unlike the simplicity of the major European leagues – teams play everyone twice and the team with the most points is the undisputed winner – Chile can see two different winners each ‘season’.
The Apertura usually takes place between January and June and teams face off against one and other in a single round-robin tournament – everyone plays everyone else once. However there is an important difference to the Argentine Primera División for example. After the 17 games are played the team at the top of the league are not yet champions. The top eight teams go into a play-off akin to the set-up in Mexico.
The champions are decided from the play-offs where it takes on a knock-out system. The Champions play the 8th placed team, runner-up take on the team that finished 7th and so on. All games are played over two legs and if the aggregate score is tied after the two legs, instead of away goals, the team that finished higher in the league proceeds. It is the same criteria for the final.
This then repeats for the Clausura (usually July to December). However there is no ‘overall’ champion. The winners of the Apertura and Clausura do not play each other.
Relegation is slightly more complex. The two teams with the lowest accumulated points from the Apertura and Clausura – excluding play-offs – are relegated to the Primera B (the league consists of 12 teams) and replaced by the Champions and Runners-up.
However there is also a relegation play-off involving the teams that finished with the 15th and 16th worst combined points total in the Primera Division and the teams that finished 3rd and 4th in Primera B to participate in the “promotion liguilla” where they play each other and the two teams with the best record win promotion or retain their position if already in the Primera Division.
However this is all going to change in 2013 when they introduce a coefficient system similar to the one that exists in Argentina where the cumulative points from four seasons (effectively two years) are divided by the number of games played to give a coefficient. But we won’t worry about that just now.
The league is prone to change with the Mexican play-off system having been in place since 2002. But since 2009 the number of teams competing in the Primera Division has dropped from 20 to 18.
Copa Libertadores/Copa Sudamericana Qualifying
In terms of qualification for the South American club competitions Chile get three spots for the Copa Libertadores – the South American equivalent of the Champions League. A spot each is awarded to the winners of the Apertura and Clausura. If it is the same side then the second spot is given to the team with the next best accumulative point’s total in the ‘general ‘table. The 3rd spot has to negotiate a play-off (qualifier) to reach the main draw and is given to the team who has the best points total over the two ‘seasons’ but has won neither tournament. So if the same team has won both championships it would be given to the team with the 3rd best record in the general table.
The South American equivalent of the Europa League is the Copa Sudamericana. Chile is also given three spots for the competition, the first going to the winner of the Copa Chile. While spots two and three are handed to the winner of the current seasons Apertura and the previous seasons Clausura.
Unlike in Europe with the Champions League and Europa League the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana do not run in conjunction with one another. So it is not uncommon sides to participate in both.