The coronavirus crisis has sidelined virtually every major sporting league around the world, but Nicaragua stands alongside the likes of Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Taiwan as one of the few countries to avoid the COVID-19 soccer apocalypse.
Over the next two weeks, the 2019–20 Liga Primera de Nicaragua season reaches its climax. Here’s what you need to know about the Central American nation’s top round-ball competition.
— Liga Primera (@lgaprimera) April 19, 2020
Apertura and Clausura: How the Liga Primera de Nicaragua works
The 10-team Liga Primera de Nicaragua is split into two virtually identical halves, with two championships handed out each season.
The Torneo de Apertura runs from August to November, then the clubs start from scratch again and compete in the Torneo de Clausura from January to May. All 10 teams play 18 regular-season games in the Apertura and the Clausura. Both competitions see the top six qualifiers progress to the play-offs, with the top two finishers earning passage straight into the semifinals. The teams placed third to sixth square off in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final are played in home-and-away format, with winners decided by goal aggregate across the two games.
The last-placed team on the aggregate table (the Apertura and Clausura regular-season standings combined) is relegated, along with the loser of the eighth versus ninth play-off.
Keeping it Real: The season so far
The Apertura half of the 2019–20 Liga Primera de Nicaragua was more intense than salsa dancing with a Sandinista.
The CD Walter Ferretti and Diriangén FC clubs finished first and second, but they were rolled in gripping semifinal rubbers by Managua FC – who claimed their maiden championship in the 2018–19 Clausura – and perennial heavyweights Real Estelí, respectively.
Managua FC took a 1–0 lead out of the first leg of December’s Apertura final, but Real Estelí squared the ledger in the return clash. Ricardo Rivas’s freakish extra-time goal at the end of the latter encounter handed Real Estelí their 16th title – and 11th from the past 15 Liga Primera de Nicaragua competitions.
Managua FC’s star Mexican import Carlos Felix finished as the 2019–20 Apertura’s top goal-scorer with 10.
The Clausura regular season wound up last week, with Managua FC finishing seven points clear of Real Estelí at the top of the table with the outstanding record of 13 wins and three draws from 18 rounds. Meanwhile, Diriangén and Walter Ferretti secured home-ground advantage for the quarterfinals by finishing third and fourth.
ART Municipal Jalapa have been the fairytale team of the Clausura. Last in the Apertura with just two wins, the club still faces a relegation play-off – but not before featuring in the Clausura finals thanks to their fifth-place finish. Juventus Managua, fifth and beaten quarterfinalists in the Apertura, took the sixth and last Clausura finals spot.
— Liga Primera (@lgaprimera) April 19, 2020
FINALS UPDATE: THE DOUBLE FOR ESTELÍ? REDEMPTION FOR MANAGUA?
The Clausura quarterfinals unfolded with pronounced favourites Diriangén FC and CD Walter Ferretti taking care of business in sudden-death showdowns.
Diriangén FC extended their unbeaten run to five matches with a typically gritty 1-0 win over a brave Juventus Managua. Walter Ferretti had a much easier time in their quarter-final, bidding adiós to Municipal Jalapa via a 5–1 demolition.
Real Estelí put one foot into the Clausura final with a 1–0 win at Diriangén in the first semi-final leg on Sunday. Midfielder Oscar Acevedo was the hero, netting the 74th-minute winner – and a crucial away goal.
Despite going into the second leg midweek as $2 favourites, Estelí were forced to hang on for a scoreless draw to advance.
Meanwhile, Ferretti held Managua FC to a scoreless draw in their first semi-final leg but the $5 outsiders went down 4–2 in the second leg on the road.
Table-topping Managua scored the only two goals of the second half to seal their spot in the final.
Managua finished the first leg of the final with a slight advantage, nabbing a 1–1 draw at Estelí ‘s home ground on Sunday (AEST).
Marlon López put the hosts on the board first with a sensational 64th-minute goal, but Pablo Gállego – Managua’s top scorer in the Clausura with eight – equalised with a brilliant header five minutes later.
Managua have outscored their opposition 28–10 at home during this Clausura campaign, though they were held to a 1–1 result by Estelí in early-April. Another extra-time decider between these clubs would not surprise.
Managua FC will be hell-bent on not letting a dominant regular season go to waste and should start Thursday morning’s (AEDT) second leg as warm favourites, while Real Estelí will draw upon their success when these clubs met in the Apertura final as they chase the 2019–20 championship double.
Follow the conclusion of the scramble for the Clausura title with Sportsbet’s Nicaragua Primera tips and odds in the lead-up to each play-off match. Deacachimba!
Sportsbet has a wide range of Liga Primera de Nicaragua betting options available for all finals games. Bet now.