No Colombian Soccer League Without Pablo Escobar?

The Colombian Soccer League, officially known as Categoría Primera A, represents the pinnacle of professional football in Colombia. With a rich history that dates back to its inception in 1948, the league has evolved into a competitive arena where talent thrives and rivalries intensify. It serves not only as a platform for domestic players to showcase their abilities but also attracts international talents, enhancing the league’s diversity and level of play.

Each season, teams across Colombia vie for the championship title, engaging fans with their dynamic playstyles and strategic prowess. The league structure, which typically features a series of tournaments leading to a final championship round, ensures a constant stream of action-packed matches. Icons of the sport have made their mark here, contributing to the global reputation of the Colombian Soccer League as a cradle of skilled footballers and a beacon of South American soccer fervor.

Sponsorships and partnerships, such as the naming rights acquired by online betting company BetPlay, indicate the league’s commercial success and growing influence in the world of sports. Fans around the globe follow the season’s progression, which is meticulously documented in terms of wins, losses, and statistics, with platforms like ESPN and FOX Sports providing comprehensive coverage.

League Structure

The Colombian Soccer League comprises a multi-tiered system with a clear path for promotion and relegation, allowing teams to dream big and strive for success at higher levels.

Categoría Primera A

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Categoría Primera A, also known as Liga BetPlay Dimayor due to sponsorship, represents the pinnacle of Colombian professional football. It consists of 20 teams, which compete in a year-round tournament. The season is split into two parts, the Apertura and the Finalización, with each crowning a champion.

  • Format: Two tournaments per season (Apertura and Finalización)
  • Teams: 20

Categoría Primera B

Just below the top division is the Categoría Primera B, where 16 teams battle it out to earn promotion. Similar to Primera A, there are two tournaments per year, promoting high stakes competition throughout the season.

  • Format: Two tournaments per season
  • Teams: 16

Relegation and Promotion

Each year, one team from Categoría Primera A faces relegation, swapping places with the Categoría Primera B team that emerges victorious in the promotion battle. Teams’ performances over three years determine relegation, rewarding consistency and long-term strategy.

  • Relegated Teams: One per season based on a three-year performance
  • Promoted Teams: One per season from Primera B

History of Colombian Soccer

Pablo Escobar and the Narco Soccer Era

The Colombian soccer league has a rich heritage, tracing its roots back to the early 20th century and evolving through various developments to the structured league system in place today.

Origins and Early Development

Football was introduced to Colombia around 1900 by English railway engineers, with the Caribbean Region being pivotal to its spread. The sport gradually became a staple among the local communities and the foundation for the league we see today. For further details on how football began in Colombia, you can read on Football in Colombia.

Professionalism and League Formation

After years of growing popularity, the Colombian soccer league turned professional in 1948. This transition marked a new era of structured competition and organization, setting the stage for the vibrant culture of club football. The league would then adopt a system featuring two championships annually, with the names “Apertura” and “Finalización,” starting from 1968. In-depth information regarding the league’s transformation is available at Categoría Primera A.

Era of ‘El Dorado’

Spanning the years 1949 to 1953, the period known as ‘El Dorado’ saw unprecedented investment as Colombian clubs recruited global stars. This was a time of significant success and heightened international interest in Colombian soccer, primarily supported by Millionarios FC’s dominance, achieving five consecutive league titles. The influence of this era is captured in the segment about the history of Colombian soccer.

Narco Soccer Era

The Colombian soccer league experienced a tumultuous period during the late 20th century when it became intertwined with the country’s narco-trade. The influx of drug money from powerful cartels, most notably Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, led to a significant investment in the sport, elevating the quality and international standing of Colombian soccer. This era, often referred to as “Narco-soccer,” saw the rise of top-tier teams and the recruitment of talented players.

However, the league was marred by corruption and violence, casting a shadow over the sport. The tragic murder of Andrés Escobar, a prominent player for the Colombian national team, after the 1994 FIFA World Cup, served as a grim reminder of the dangers associated with the intersection of soccer and the criminal underworld. His death underscored the need for the purification of the sport from such influences, leading to efforts to reform the league and restore its integrity.

Modern Developments

Recent years have seen the Colombian soccer league advancing in professionalism and performance. Notably, the league’s standing solidified with independent championships established in 2002, diversifying the competition and fostering local talent. Colombia’s national team’s history, including their World Cup participations and the landmark victory in the 2001 Copa América, reflects the league’s progress, as found in the History of the Colombia national football team.

Teams and Key Players

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The Colombian soccer league boasts an array of competitive teams dotted with exceptional talents. This section shines a light on the prominent clubs, legendary figures who’ve graced the league, and the up-and-coming stars poised to make their mark.

Notable Clubs

  • Atlético Nacional:
    • Based in Medellín, 16-time league champions.
  • Millonarios FC:
    • Hailing from Bogotá, they have clinched the title 15 times.
  • América de Cali:
    • Red Devils from Cali, known for their passionate fanbase and 14 league titles.

Legendary Players

  • Carlos Valderrama:
    • Nicknamed ‘El Pibe’, famous for his creative playmaking and iconic hair.
  • Faustino Asprilla:
    • A forward known for his flair and stints in top European clubs.
  • René Higuita:
    • The goalkeeper famed for his ‘scorpion kick’ save and unorthodox style.

Rising Talents

  • Juan Fernando Quintero:
    • Ingenious midfielder currently showcasing top form.
  • Luis Díaz:
    • A winger known for blistering pace and technical skill making waves in Europe.

Competitions and Tournaments

In the realm of the colombian soccer league, three major competitions capture the nation’s passion for the beautiful game: the Liga BetPlay Dimayor, the Copa Colombia, and the Superliga Colombiana. Each tournament showcases high-caliber teams and talent, and here’s a closer look at how they shape the landscape of Colombian football.

Liga BetPlay Dimayor

The Liga BetPlay Dimayor is the top professional division in Colombian football. This league is where the country’s most skilled players compete for the coveted title and the chance to partake in international club competitions. Teams are challenged through a system of promotion and relegation with the Categoría Primera B, ensuring a constant flow of fresh talent and fierce competition at all levels.

Copa Colombia

The Copa Colombia is an annual knockout football competition where clubs from various divisions have the opportunity to clash against one another. It’s a chance for lower-ranked teams to prove their mettle against the top-tier clubs and for fans to experience the unpredictable nature of knockout stages, where any team can strive for glory.

Superliga Colombiana

The Superliga Colombiana is a relatively new addition to the Colombian football calendar. It’s a contested championship, pitting the previous year’s Liga BetPlay champions against the victors of the Copa Colombia in an exhilarating face-off. This competition not only offers silverware but also stokes the flames of rivalry among the country’s top squads.

Governance and Regulation

The management of the Colombian Soccer League hinges on robust governance and a structured regulatory framework, ensuring fair play both on and off the pitch.

Governing Body

The Major Division of Colombian Professional Soccer (DIMAYOR) is the primary authority presiding over the league’s operations. This entity is responsible for organizing and controlling the national football competitions at the professional level. DIMAYOR’s members, including 16 clubs, make critical decisions that shape the direction and integrity of the league.

Regulatory Framework

Underpinning the league’s governance, the Colombian National Sports System establishes the legal basis for sports organization in the country. Instituted by Law 181 of 1995, this system mandates the promotion, regulation, and execution of sports practices, with football being a central focus. Within this structure, democratic processes undergird the election of governing bodies, ensuring their operations align with national regulations.

Financial Fair Play

Financial integrity is crucial for the sustainability of the league. DIMAYOR enforces financial fair play regulations, much like those seen in European leagues, to maintain a level playing field. These rules aim to prevent clubs from spending beyond their means and to promote economic stability within the league.

Fan Culture and Support

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In the Colombian Soccer League, passionate fans create a vibrant atmosphere, with organized fan clubs boosting support, intense rivalries fueling excitement, and derby matches showcasing the nation’s football fervor.

Fan Clubs and Associations

Fan clubs are the heartbeat of football fandom in Colombia. Known as ‘barras’, these groups are pivotal in orchestrating support for teams in the Colombian Soccer League. They often have structured hierarchies and are essential in sustaining club traditions, organizing community events, and leading chants during matches. Their commitment extends beyond the pitch, contributing to social causes and fostering a sense of unity among supporters.

Stadium Atmosphere

The atmosphere within Colombian stadiums is electrifying, with fans contributing to a carnival-like experience. On match-days, stadiums turn into a sea of team colors, as supporters donning jerseys and scarves chant in unison from hours before the whistle till long after the game ends. Stands resonate with the rhythm of drums and are frequently embellished with massive banners and choreographed displays, exemplifying the fans’ pride and loyalty.

Rivalries and Derbies

Rivalries in the Colombian Soccer League are charged with emotion and history, making derby days the most anticipated fixtures of the season. Local derbies like the “Clásico Paisa” between Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín are not just about the game, they reflect the city’s culture and social dynamics. These matches are often tightly contested affairs and can significantly shift the mood of the respective fan bases, depending on the outcome.

Challenges and Controversies

The Colombian Soccer League, despite its passionate fanbase and contribution to international football, has been marred by ongoing challenges and controversies that affect the integrity of the sport and its stakeholders.

Corruption in Football

Instances of match-fixing have tarnished the image of the Colombian Soccer League. For example, a recent scandal drew global attention and criticism, questioning the fairness of competition within the league.

Issues of Racism and Discrimination

Discrimination based on race remains a pressing issue. The league has seen multiple incidents where players have been subject to racist remarks from individuals in the crowd, highlighting the urgent need for equality and inclusivity initiatives.

Security and Hooliganism

Concerns about violence are prevalent, notably when fan enthusiasm turns into fanaticism leading to brawls and chaos. The tension between fans of major clubs, such as during a match at the Atanasio Girardot stadium, underscores the ongoing security challenges the league faces.

My opinion on the Colombian soccer league

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The Colombian soccer league showcases a vibrant football culture, reflecting the country’s passion for the sport. They don’t shy away from a style that mixes technical finesse with physical play, a testament to the league’s diverse talent pool. The league’s structure encourages competition, and despite disparities in team resources, there’s always an underdog story in the works.

Teams and Performance:

  • Top contenders consistently push the boundaries of play.
  • Smaller clubs struggle but occasionally stage remarkable upsets.

Development of Players:

  • The league excels in nurturing local talents.
  • Stars often move to European leagues, suggesting a strong development system.


  • Matches are frequently unpredictable, ensuring excitement for fans.
  • Inequalities exist but don’t undermine the league’s competitive spirit.

Fan Engagement:

  • Supporters are among the most passionate in the world.
  • Stadia are often filled, creating electrifying atmospheres.

In observing the technical aspects of the Colombian soccer league, one sees a blend of experienced veterans and promising youngsters contributing to an evolving playstyle. Financial inequalities do impact the consistency of smaller clubs, yet, they manage to produce competitive matches. This dynamic keeps the league lively and maintains fan interest throughout the season. The league has become a crucible for talent that often flourishes on international stages, an aspect that the Colombian soccer league should be commended for. The level of passion from the fans is unparalleled, which is a crown jewel for any sporting league.


The Colombian Soccer League, known as Categoría Primera A, features a robust competition structure.

How many teams are in the Colombian soccer league?

The Colombian Soccer League comprises a total of 20 teams. Each team plays one match against all others during the regular season, with the top 8 teams progressing to the league finals.

If you are interested in other South American countries, you can find out why the Brazilians are so good at soccer here and the best players Argentina has produced here. South America will also host the 2026 World Cup, here you can find out which stadiums and cities you can visit in Mexico. What is your thoughts about colombian soccer league? Let us know in the comments!

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