Portuguese Primeira Liga

The Primeira Liga is Portugal's top professional football division, and until 1989 the only professional football league in the country. With clubs like Benfica, Porto and Sporting, it has always been one of Europe's biggest leagues. These three teams have won practically all titles since 1938-39, when the competition had its inaugural season.

Basic facts

Founded: 1999 (1934)
Country: Portugal
Organizer: Liga Portugal (LPFP)


Primeira Liga (1934-1938)
Primeira Divisão (1938-1999)
Primeira Liga (1999-)

League records

Most championships: Benfica (38)
Most played seasons: Benfica, Porto, Sporting (85)


“Primeira Liga” is a name that was first used in 1934, four years before the official establishment of a national league in Portugal. When football in the country was reformed in 1938, the new competition was named “Campeonato Nacional da Primeira Divisão” (National Championship of the First Division) or simply “Primeira Divisão” (First Division), a name that remained in use until 1999.

Porto were the first champions, they retained their title next season, and have remained one of Portugal's “Big Three”, as they, Benfica and Sporting are called.

Until 1941, only teams from Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Setúbal took part in the competition. That year, two clubs from Braga and Algarve were admitted. The league finally acquired a more nation-wide character in 1945, when any team from whichever region of the country could win a spot in the First Division, as long as they earned promotion from the Second Division.

Benfica are the most decorated club in the country. They have won the championship title more times than their two biggest rivals, Porto and Sporting. They have also lifted the Taça de Portugal trophy (Cup of Portugal, the second biggest national football competition) many more times than any other team.

Benfica were also the first ones to finish a season undefeated, in 1973, winning 28 of their 30 matches, and drawing just twice. They repeated their accomplishment finishing without a single loss the 1977-78 season as well (21 wins, nine draws), but ironically they lost the championship title to Porto.

Benfica are holders of two more records; combining the second half of the 1971-72 season, and the first half on next season, they won 29 games in a row. Also, they have remained undefeated longer than any other team in Portugal's championship, for 56 matches, from October 1976 to September 1978.

Porto as well have finished the championship undefeated twice, and in 1999 they became the first club to win the title five seasons in a row.

Benfica, Porto and Sporting are not just the three teams that have won almost all championship titles. They are also the only clubs that have never been relegated, the ones with the biggest stadiums, as well as the biggest average attendances. Furthermore, historically, they have been the main player providers to Portugal's national team.

The name “Primeira Liga” made its comeback substituting “Primeira Divisão” as the league's title in 1999. Three years later, it started getting combined with a sponsor's name, adding another source of income for the clubs and the “Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional” itself. More commonly known as “Liga Portugal”, or by its acronym, “LPFP”, it is the governing body of Portugal's two professional leagues (including the second division).

League system

Primeira Liga is the name of the current top level of the Portuguese football league system. A second division (originally referred to as Segunda Divisão de Honra) with professional status was founded in 1990. An overview of the current league system in Portugal is presented in table 1.

Table 1. Portugal football tiers
Club Tier
Primeira Liga 1
LigaPro 2
Campeonato de Portugal 3

Campeonato de Portugal (former Portuguese Second Division) is a non-professional league that has been the third tier since 2013. Below that tier are groups of leagues divided by districts.

Taça da Liga

In 2007, Taça da Liga (Portuguese League Cup) was founded. It is a competition between teams from the two top domestic leagues, Primeira Liga and LigaPro. Vitória de Setúbal became the winners of the first edition, played in the 2007-2008 season.



Teams with most titles

Statistics of all Portuguese clubs that have won the top league, concerning the period 1939-2023.

Table 2. Clubs and Primeira Liga titles
Club Titles 1st title
Benfica 38 1935-36
Porto 29 1934-35
Sporting 18 1940-41
Belenenses 1 1945-46
Boavista 1 2000-2001

Beside these five Portuguese champions, Académica, Vitória de Setúbal and Braga have been runner-ups.

In European elite football, the Portuguese league is one of the most skewed in the way it is dominated by a few clubs. This became more apparent than ever in 1973 when Benfica won the top division after 28 won and 2 drawn games. Porto carried out a similar achievement by winning 27 and drawing 3 during the 2010-2011 season.

Teams with most Primeira Liga participation

Statistics of the Portugal clubs that have participated more than 50 times in the national top division during the period 1934-2020.

Table 3. Clubs and league participation
Club Participation
Benfica 86
Porto 86
Sporting 86
Belenenses 77
Vitória de Guimarães 75
Vitória de Setúbal 72
Académica 64
Braga 64
Boavista 57

Between the first season and the last, in total 72 clubs has participating in top division of the Portuguese league.


Capacity of Primeira Liga stadiums

Table 4 shows the capacity of all Primeira Liga club stadiums (based on the teams that participated in the league season 2016–2017). Benficas's Estaádio da Luz is the biggest in the league with capacity of almost 65,000 people.

Table 4. The stadium capacities in the Primeira Liga season 16-17
Team Stadium name Capacity
Arouca Estádio Municipal de Arouca 5,000
Belenenses Estádio do Restelo 19,300
Benfica Estádio da Luz 64,642
Boavista Estádio do Bessa XXI 28,263
Braga Estádio Municipal de Braga 30,154
Chaves Estadio Municipal 8,000
Estoril Estádio António Coimbra da Mota 8,000
Feirense Estádio Marcolino de Castro 5,401
Marítimo Estádio do Marítimo 10,500
Moreirense Parque Joaquim Almeida Freitas 6,100
Nacional Estádio da Madeira 5,142
Paços de Ferreira Estádio Capital do Móvel 5,250
Porto Estádio do Dragão 50,035
Rio Ave Estádio do Rio Ave 12,815
Sporting Estádio José Alvalade 50,095
Tondela Estádio João Cardoso 5,000
Vitória de Guimarães Estádio D. Afonso Henriques 30,146
Vitória de Setúbal Estádio do Bonfim 18,692

There are some other stadiums in Portugal with high capacity. Estádio Municipal de Aveiro (homeground for Beira-Mar) and Estádio Cidade de Coimbra (homeground for Académica) has both capacities over 30,000.


Top goalscorers

The league's all-time leading goalscorer is Fernando Peyroteo with 332 league goals between 1937 and 1949. During his career he exclusively played for Sporting CP and is noted for 197 leagues appearances, that make his goal ratio to 1,7.

The legendary Eusébio holds the record in being the league’s top scorer on most occasion, seven times. He played most of his career in Benfica for which he did 317 goals on 301 appearances, the goal frequency culminated in the 1967-68 season with 42 goals.

Famous players

Some of the most famous players that have participated in the Portuguese Primeira Liga are:

Since 1991 the Portuguese Golden Ball award is given to one player in the Primeira Liga every year. João Pinto and Mário Jardel are the only players to receive the award twice.

By Dimitris Basias

Primeira Liga timeline

1914 The Portuguese Football Federation (Federação Portuguesa de Futebol; FPF) is founded.
1934 The league is established with the top division named Campeonato da Liga da Primeira Divisão.
1938 The top division is renamed as Campeonato Nacional da Primeira Divisão.
1999 The league is renamed as Primeira Liga.
1995 From the 1995-96 season, wins are awarded three points instead of two.
2002 The league is named SuperLiga GalpEnergia due to sponsorship reasons.
2005 The league is named Liga betandwin.com due to sponsorship reasons.
2006 The league is named BWINLIGA due to sponsorship reasons.
2008 The league is named Liga Sagres due to sponsorship reasons.
2010 The league is named Liga ZON Sagres due to sponsorship reasons.
2014 The league is named Liga NOS due to sponsorship reasons.