The Categoría Primera A (Spanish pronunciation: [kateɣoˈɾi.a pɾiˈmeɾa ˈa]), commonly referred to as Liga Águila due to sponsorship by brewery company Bavaria (manufacturer of Águila beer), is a Colombian professional league for association football clubs. It is the country’s premier football tournament and sits at the top of the Colombian football league system.
A total of twenty clubs compete in the league’s regular season. División Mayor del Fútbol Profesional Colombiano, better known as Dimayor, operates the league system of promotion and relegation for both Categoría Primera A and Categoría Primera B leagues.
Since its founding in 1948, fourteen teams have been crowned as the Colombian football champions. The most successful clubs are Millonarios and Atlético Nacional with 14 titles. The IFFHS have ranked the league the 9th best in the world and, the third best in South America.
During the league stage, which lasts for twenty matches, each team plays against every other team once, plus an additional game against their local rival in the league. The league table follows a normal European league table, one point for ties and three points for a win. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs.
The playoffs have been organized in two different ways over the course of the short tournaments. They were first organized by dividing the eight teams into two groups where they would play home and away games; then, the two group winners would play the final. In later years, the playoffs are organized in pairs and play direct elimination in home and away games until only two teams reach the finals.
The finals involve two games. The team with the highest overall points achieved during the league stage gets to play the second game in their home stadium; if the aggregate points are the same, the home game is determined by the goal difference. The team with the highest aggregate score after both home and away games wins and is awarded the championship. If the games end up in a tie, there is no additional time and it proceeds directly to a penalty shoot-out. The away goals rule is not used.
Relegation from Primera A is based on an averaging system. At the end of each season, the two teams with the worst three-year average are relegated to Primera B.
Once the torneo Finalización is over, the winner of Apertura and Finalización face each other off in Superliga Colombiana and the winner is given a spot in the Copa Sudamericana.
Before 1948 there was no professional football league in Colombia. The first clubs were formed in Barranquilla and Bogotá: Barranquilla FC, Polo Club, Escuela Militar and Bartolinos, although the game took a while to develop in popularity. The 1918 Campeonato Nacional was the first tournament played between Colombian clubs, followed by the Copa Centenario Batalla de Boyacá. Independiente Medellín, founded on 15 April 1913, is the oldest club that remains as a professional club. The first tournament was organised by Colombian Football Federation and DIMAYOR in 1948. In the tournament 10 teams signed up (each had to pay a fee of 1,000 pesos): one of Barranquilla, two of Bogotá, two of Cali, two of Manizales, two of Medellín and two of Pereira. 252 players were registered as follows: 182 Colombians, 13 Argentines, 8 Peruvians, 5 Uruguayans, 2 Chileans, 2 Ecuadorians, 1 Dominican and 1 Spanish.
From 1949 to 1954 the DIMAYOR, the organiser of the league, broke away from FIFA after a dispute with Adefútbol, the existing amateur football authority in Colombia, in a period known as El Dorado. Therefore, all Colombian teams were suspended from playing international football. The Colombian national team was also under sanction. However, FIFA sanction did not hurt the league; instead, the Colombian league reached its golden era during the period. During the early 1950s the league was dominated by Millonarios FC as they won consecutive championship with recognised players such as Alfredo di Stéfano.
In 1968 the league followed the pattern common in South America by splitting into two separate competitions per season, the Apertura (February to June) and the Finalización (July to December). During the 1980s saw the emergence of América de Cali as they won 5 consecutive championships and so far are the only ones who have done it. In 1991 a second division was added to the first with a third, now defunct. The Copa Colombia appeared in 1950 although this knockout competition was only contested from time to time until 2008 when it became an annual tournament. Since 2002 the Apertura and Finalización tournaments became separate with each having their own champion, which meant two champions per year. Since that change Atlético Nacional of Medellín have dominated the league, in the 2007 season they would become the first and only club to win both the Apertura and Finalización tournaments, they would repeat this in the 2013 season as well.