In the wild and wonderful world of South American football, there are few stories as bizarre as that of Alianza Lima winning the 2021 Peruvian championship.
Because the club did not even feature in the opening round of fixtures. At the end of 2020, Alianza had been relegated to the second division.
This in itself is extraordinary. Alianza are one of Peru’s traditional giants. The club of Teofilo Cubillas, Scotland’s hangman back in 1978, they now have 24 league titles to their name.
It is almost unthinkable for them to be relegated. Peru’s league is currently one of the weakest in South America, with its representatives struggling to win any games in the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s Champions League.
A team like Alianza has to be almost off the scale of bad to go down.
And it was all the more remarkable for happening last year. As a consequence of the pandemic, the entire championship was played in the capital city.
Alianza spent the year without having to travel. This should have been a major advantage.
Some of their opponents usually base their strategy on playing their home games at altitude, or in the heat of the north. Not this time. Even so, Alianza finished in the relegation slots.
But as soon as the season ended, the complaints started. There was contention about the team that had finished one place above Alianza, the splendidly named Carlos Stein.
During the season Carlos Stein had gone through some financial problems, and had paid their players late.
The Peruvian FA gave them a fine. Alianza argued that this was not enough, since the regulations stipulated that they should be docked points.
The FA disagreed, confirming Alianza’s relegation. And Alianza took their case all the way to Switzerland, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The season had already kicked off, and Carlos Stein had played a match, when the verdict came in. Alianza won the day.
CAS decided that the regulations should be upheld to the letter, that Carlos Stein should lose two points – taking them below Alianza in the 2020 table and into the 2021 second division.
A place was hurriedly found for Alianza at the top table. Fearing the worst, they had prepared for the battle to regain their status, hiring Carlos Bustos, a rugged coach from Argentina, to take charge.
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Basing his side on tight defence, his methods, originally drawn up with the second division in mind, proved good enough to win the first.
The season ended with a two legged play off against free scoring Sporting Cristal. Alianza kept things tight and won 1-0 on aggregate.
Carlos Stein, meanwhile, came through a penalty shoot out at the end of a play off and won promotion back to the top flight. Their meetings with Alianza next year may well be grudge matches.
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