Is now. There is nothing else. Eibar, Las Palmas, Tenerife and Girona have their true acid test in these two weeks of June. After 42 exhausting days, these four candidates reach a playoff that will decide who will accompany Almería and Valladolid to the First Division. The future in this phase will mark the memory, bitter or happy, of its fans.
And in this phase, the KO phase, there are no favourites. If fans and pros ever tried to identify them, the playoff story has already shattered them. Since LaLiga recovered this format back in the 2010-11 season, only in three seasons has the third-placed team emerged as the winner: Valladolid (2011-12), Almería, (2012-13) and Getafe (2016-17). The others did not know or could not withstand the pressure of the ‘favorite’. On the contrary, three of the sixth classified, Rayo Vallecano (2020-21), Elche (2019-20) and Osasuna (2015-16), achieved the feat of ascending to the elite starting from the worst position. Even Córdoba, seventh in 2013-14, managed to climb to the First Division after emerging as the winner of the promotion phase. However, as in many issues of life and in most football, the dynamics affect and it is important to analyze the states of the four ‘brave’.
THE FOUR TEAMS
The armory season began with some hesitation, since many new faces had to be attached. The injuries, especially in attack, had the weight of him. And a signing of enormous media impact arrived: Llorente, nothing less than a world champion in Ipurua, although he was very far from that striker who became world champion in South Africa.
Stoichkov began to score goals, to fight for the top scorer and formed with Expósito two of the great stars of the League. Nobody could with Eibar in Ipurua and the team settled for much of the championship between the first two, he even saw himself as a leader. But the final stretch did unleash certain suspicions that things were going wrong. Valladolid ‘assaulted’ Ipurua and the nerves began. Eibar came as the leader, depending on itself, at the climax of the regular phase in Alcorcón. In an unfortunate game, he was unable to even protect the goalless draw against a bottom team that did not play anything beyond honor. Zarfino in 91′ closed a diabolical circle that put Almería in direct promotion. Valladolid also fulfilled its obligation.
Now the gunsmith is seen in the playoff lottery. The weaknesses of the group in Santo Domingo were seen: defensive insecurity, fear in their eyes when they risk their lives. But as Garitano says, this year they have managed to save very compromising situations, an answer always came at the end of the game to heads or tails. “Football has been cruel to us,” Sentenced at Garitano press conference Now a tough but equally important revalidation awaits them.
The comeback in Las Palmas has been an absolute epic. After bottoming out against Girona, 1-3, the team rearranged itself to win nine of the last 11 matches in the championship. In the other two, tied. Decisive was, especially, his victory on the penultimate day against Oviedo, 2-1, in which he not only beat a direct rival, but also returned to the playoffs five months later.
Las Palmas arrives launched to the promotion, without a doubt the team to beat after that streak of 29 of the last 33 points in play. His best player is Jonathan Viera. “Playing against Tenerife in the first tie adds even more magic to the matter,” said the midfielder when it became known that Tenerife would be his rival.
“Playing against Tenerife in the first tie adds even more magic to the matter”
The Gran Canaria also reaches the qualifying rounds for promotion at the best moment of his career. He scored in the last six days of a championship in which he is the clear MVP. It remains to be seen the state in which Jesé arrives, with problems in his right shoulder. Álvaro Valles, his goalkeeper, has also been decisive, as has Kirian. When the team gets the ball to flow between the quartet made up of Viera, Moleiro, Kirian and Jesé, it seems unstoppable. He suffers a lot from set pieces.
Since the end of October, Tenerife was able to accommodate in the playoff and has not come out. He even dreamed a couple of times of chasing direct promotion, but he never quite believed it. Thanks to their defensive solidity and their excellent away records, the island has once again dreamed of returning to the First Division and getting rid of the ‘No promotion’ thorn in Getafe in 2017.
There have been eleven victories away from the Island, a statistic that improves on the last two promotions to the highest category with Rafa Benitez, in 2001 and José Luis Oltra, in 2009. Curiously, it has been at home where several games have been blocked (Lugo , Mirandés, Leganés or Málaga) and against direct rivals such as Éibar, Almería or Valladolid, they lost.
As for the names of this Tenerife dream, the security offered by Juan Soriano under sticks, of the least defeated goalkeepers so far, has been key in this present. Joseph Leonwhat’s more, he has become the head of the defense in his first season. Then there’s the scoring contribution from Elady Zorrilla or Enric Gallego, the talent of Álex Corredera, the veteran of captain Aitor Sanz or the drive of Víctor Mollejo. The technician has also managed to make even the least usual feel important.
Girona will play its third playoff in a row. He has never managed to climb this route and he hopes and wishes that the third time in a row will be the charm. Míchel signed in the summer with the aim of providing the experience that the two promotions to First Division that he carries in his backpack gave him and thus be able to recover the category that was lost in the 2018-19 season.
It has not been an easy season for Girona, but without a doubt it has gone from less to more. He suffered, and a lot, at the start of the League and at times it was thought that it was going to be a course to tie the permanence and nothing more. And it is that even came to be in relegation positions on day 12 after adding only 12 points. A poor baggage that, surprisingly, did not erode confidence in a Míchel who over time has proven right to those who bet on him as the sports director, Quique Cárcel. After day 12, the situation took a turn. In the following 22 games, the balance was 14 wins, four draws and only four losses.
Girona’s current moment is, according to Míchel, “very good” and they want to exploit it in a playoff that has several pending accounts with them. Without a doubt, the depth of the bench and the excellent form of players such as Juan Carlos, Arnau Martínez, Aleix García, Iván Martín, Baena, Borja García and Stuani are a very favorable point. And precisely having the Uruguayan makes things much easier. Although Baena, a player on loan from Villarreal, is also capable of being decisive due to his overflow and quality, the striker from Uruguay is, without question, the great star of this team. This year he has scored 22 goals. A figure that elevates him and allows Girona to be one of the favorites for promotion.
an epic ending
The return to this format could not have had a better opening ending. The Elche of a Bordalás that was beginning to stand out and the Granada of a mythical Fabri measured their strength in a final that both cities, in need of football joys, lived like the Champions League final: massive receptions, some stadiums to the flag and a week in which only football was breathed in the two locations. In addition, the momentary ‘enmity’ of the two technicians heated up a second leg with hints of ‘thriller’. Bordalás went so far as to say that “Fabri is unworthy for the profession” and his equal on the Granada bench said that “Elche put on a hell of a party without having achieved anything” referring to that penalty saved by the goalkeeper from Elche Jaime in the last minute of the first leg.
Already with the ball rolling in the decisive game, the tension was through the roof. A rough duel from the first minute in which Ighalo, who replaced the Granada star Geijo, disguised himself as a hero scoring a cinema goal: dribble past the goalkeeper, dodge the central defender and finish at the long post. And if Ighalo was a hero in Granada, Miranda Torres was a villain in Elche. The referee annulled a legal goal by Pelegrín for visibly non-existent offside. Xumetra leveled the match in the 80th minute, but the double value of the goals away from home gave promotion to a Granada that chained two promotions.
The worst way to end a crazy season
When Las Palmas already saw themselves facing Real Madrid and Barça next season, an invasion of the field, which had little to celebrate in advance, deprived the Canary Islanders of promotion. The course of events, Dantesque. The islanders and Chapi Ferrer’s Córdoba played everything ninety minutes after the 0-0 first leg. Both had been more than five years without stepping on the elite of Spanish football and the caliphs, to make matters worse, they had accessed the playoff as seventh as Barça B could not play the promotion phase due to being a subsidiary.
At first, everything smiled at the local team. Its stadium, up to the flag; their gamers, led by Valeron, were in tune and a goal by Apoño at the beginning of the second half invited the transformation of dreams into realities. Las Palmas led 1-0 in the 93rd minute and the club opened the stadium doors before the final whistle to facilitate the exit of the fans. Usual procedure in the regular phase, but in that playoff final it was the match that blew up the game. The thousands of yellow fans who were watching the game outside agreed and invaded the pitch with the ball still in play. Sánchez Martínez, referee of the match, decided to stop the match when there was still a minute and a half left to play; the players and directors of Las Palmas, on the field asking their followers to leave the pitch. After a few minutes of embarrassment, the duel was resumed with some ‘canary follower’ still on the pitch. Córdoba had a break in this obligatory break that emboldened Ferrer’s men. Las Palmas, meanwhile, returned with the certainty that the impatience of their fans had condemned them.
Pelayo Novo, Raúl Bravo and Dávila, the visiting heroes. The first jumped onto the pitch with a crack in his left arm solely and exclusively to serve a cross to Bravo, who finished off the remanguillé but put the goal on a plate to Dávila. Córdoba, ranked seventh in the regular league, was promoted to the First Division in the last game of the playoff. The worst was yet to come. The final whistle unleashed the fury of many of the attendees. Córdoba and the referee team had to run to the changing rooms, fleeing from a field that was soon filled with policemen, brawls and flying bottles and chairs.
The longest playoff in the world
COVID-19 stopped the world and, with it, football. All football competitions, including LaLiga Smartbank, stopped waiting for the pandemic to subside and the ball could roll again. This, how could it be otherwise, delayed the development of a Second Division campaign that ‘ended’ on July 20. It ended halfway and it is that an outbreak in Fuenlabrada, which faced Deportivo with the playoff at stake for the Azulones, forced the match to be postponed until August 7. Meanwhile, Zaragoza, Almería, Girona and Elche, teams also immersed in that fight for promotion, angry at a wait they considered unjustified. Lost game to Fuenlabrada for failing to comply with the required protocol.
Almost a month behind the scheduled date, Elche disputed the playoff after Fuenlabrada fell in Riazor on that terrible last day. First Zaragoza fell, who could not count on their best player, Luis Suárez, and Almería. The final, meanwhile, was played by Girona and Elche. The Catalans arrived as top favorites but a goal from Pere Milla promoted the Elche from Elche to the Olympus of Spanish football. Elche, who could barely prepare for the playoff, went up to the First Division to the amazement of locals and strangers.