Portugal’s frantic second-tier promotion race

One accusation levelled at Portuguese football is its predictability with the same few teams vying for silverware year after year. Drop down a division, however, and it’s a whole different world.

Liga Portugal 2, currently named the Liga Portugal SABSEG, is a fiercely competitive and unpredictable league, which is arguably more exciting to follow than the top flight.

As such, PortuGOAL is starting a new section dedicated to the country’s second tier.

José Almeida will be bringing us weekly updates on what promises to be a thrilling promotion race. By way of introduction, José outlines the main contenders for a place among the big boys next season.


Lower league football is chaotic and nowhere is that truer than in Portugal’s second-tier: Liga Portugal 2. It’s a world of financial insecurity mixed with Brazilian and African imports, and unlike the Primeira Liga there are no ‘big three’ clubs that dominate this league.

The division is in a state of constant flux. Anyone can go up and earn the massive revenues that come with playing against the nation’s biggest clubs or perhaps even take part in a European adventure, but anyone can also go down losing the perks and investors that come with being a Liga II club so close to the top.

So, who are the would-be hopefuls this year in Liga Portugal 2? 

Current Liga 2 standings after three matches of the 2023/24 season


38 years in the Primeira Liga makes Marítimo an institution of top-flight Portuguese football. The fact they are now in the second tier has not gone down well on the island of Madeira. Some would say the club is too historic to be at this level, but many would argue that there is no future when you live in the past. It wouldn’t be a shock to see complacency affect Marítimo this season, but with the squad and resources Marítimo have at their disposal they are on paper the favourites to win Liga Portugal 2.

Paços de Ferreira

Another big name in Portuguese football who were also relegated from the top-flight last season. Paços de Ferreira do have recent experience in Liga II; bouncing straight back up after relegation when they ran away with the 2018/19 edition of Liga Portugal 2. Like Marítimo, it would be foolish to ignore the advantages and allure that come with being a club of the stature of Paços. Anything other than promotion this year would be regarded as a failure for the fans.

Santa Clara

The last of the relegated sides, Azores-based Santa Clara heads into the division as still a solid outfit. One thing that will stand Santa Clara in good stead in Liga II is their ability to get the business done and avoid getting involved in hectic counter-attacking battles. Santa Clara may well be the most defensively sound team in the league and will be the most well-equipped to break the hearts of Marítimo or Paços fans.


The most impressive side of the season thus far. New owners from Japan came into Oliveirense last season and the Onodera Group have made a number of good decisions for the club, namely the acquisitions of 35-year-old Duarte Duarte and André Schutte signed from the Spanish fourth tier - each can do things with a football that defies physics at times. Certainly a club to watch this season, although it remains to be seen if Oliveirense have the squad depth to keep up a season-long promotion pursuit.


AVS Futebol are a side in their infancy formed this season following a merger between Vilafranquense and former Primeira Liga side C.D. Aves. The reborn side have surprised many in Portugal so far during their short existence. Currently undefeated with wins over Marítimo and Primeira Liga clubs Chaves and Vizela, Jorge Costa’s men from Vila das Aves have somehow forced their way into a serious discussion of being promotion contenders this season.

C.D. Mafra

The nearly men, always there or thereabouts when it comes to the hunt for promotion. The problem with Mafra is they are a very good side but are incredibly inconsistent - so inconsistent that the word probably has the Mafra crest next to it in the dictionary. Perhaps this season’s new partnership with FC Midtjylland of Denmark could finally be the catalyst for a consistently successful run to promotion for Mafra.

U.D. Leiria

Back in Liga II for the first time since 2009, the Leiria revolution led by coach Vasco Botelho da Costa is underway in Liga Portugal 2. Botelho da Costa is quickly becoming known as one of Portugal’s best young coaches, galvanising his squad since taking charge and being able to convince talented players like Arsénio to join his Leiria project. The Liga 3 champions don’t play like survival is the name of the game for them, da Costa’s men have higher aspirations and look like they could be the dark horse of this year’s campaign.

Académico de Viseu

It’s now ten years in Liga Portugal 2 for Académico de Viseu. They’ve survived by the skin of their teeth, and they’ve been agonisingly close to reaching the promised land of the Primeira Liga. In the last few seasons, Viseu have returned to competing with the top dogs of the division. A solid defence and a striker in André Clóvis – who was not only voted the league’s best player last season but also the player who ran away with the top scorer award – is always a good foundation to build on as they aim once more to end their decade-long association with Liga II.

Os Belenenses

Along with Boavista, the only side outside of Porto, Benfica and Sporting to be crowned champions of Portugal have made it back to Portugal’s second tier after a terrible few years spoiled by financial woes and a messy club split. It’s been an objectively bad start for Belenenses in the division and maybe it is too soon to be thinking about a Primeira Liga return. However, they are a club that has shown a lot of fight in recent times, and we can be sure to expect to see that fight in Liga Portugal 2 throughout the season.

Another nine sides occupy Liga Portugal 2 with the margins between each club extremely fine:

  • Torreense
  • Feirense
  • Nacional
  • Penafiel
  • Tondela
  • Länk Vilaverdense
  • Leixões
  • FC Porto B*
  • Benfica B*

*The B-teams cannot be promoted to the top flight.

The two clubs that finish in the top two positions are promoted, while the team that finishes third goes into an end-of-season promotion playoff against the side that finishes third-bottom in the Primeira Liga. If any of the B-teams finish in the top three positions, they are disregarded for promotion purposes and the club immediately below them in the table takes their promotion/playoff place.

It is an unpredictable league and the forecasts of those brave enough to make them rapidly go out the window, which is exactly why it is a league that you should be watching!