As another season starts in Spain, it almost felt inevitable that the first week of league fixtures would give us a further taste of the unpredictable domestic narrative that became a running theme in last season’s La Liga campaign.
On Sunday evening, the Ipurúa was the setting. The quaint, verdant location happens to be the smallest stadium in the league and home to Eibar, one of the many surprise packages from 2017-18.
The Basque side’s ninth-place finish was beyond their wildest dreams this time last year.
However, on Sunday, it would not be José Luis Mendilibar’s side who would be feeling exuberant come the end of the 90 minutes.
Within five minutes of the opening encounter against Huesca, it was one of the opposition’s key performers in last year’s Segunda promotion campaign, Alex Gallar, who enlightened the occasion; embarking on a dazzling, dribbling run into Eibar’s penalty area to finish adroitly in a moment of sustained virtuosity.
The 26-year-old’s Primera debut was about to get even better. In the 40th minute, his long-range free kick- an attempted cross in reality – continued beyond its intended target to loop past Eibar goalkeeper Marko Dmitrović.
Gallar’s career to date has been modest to say the least. The Catalonian only made his Segunda debut last season and his path of clubs reads: Rubí; Murcia B; Terrassa- all who play in Spain’s fourth tier- followed by Segunda B sides Cornellá; Herculés; and Cultu.
The Catalonian’s rise is mirrored by Huesca’s ascent to LaLiga in recent seasons.
Located at the foot of the Aragonese Pyrenees in north east Spain and with a population of just over 50,000 inhabitants, the fact that they have spent much of their history in the Tercera- Spain’s fourth division- would not be seen as unusual in infrastructural terms.
Having only reached the second division for the first time in their history in 2009, they were relegated after four seasons, only to return once again in 2015, after a first-place finish and a two-leg play-off victory over the now-dissolved Huracán Valencia.
A two-year spell in the Segunda culminated in automatic promotion at the end of 2017-18, with the Aragonese-based side finishing second behind league champions Rayo Vallecano.
With promotion secured, transfer activity was busy this summer with seven players leaving the Estadio El Alcoraz. Gallar stayed and in doing so, rubber-stamped his name into the club’s history books.
Gallar humbly said after the game that “it was a good goal”, before eventually admitting: “Ok great- for us. It’s history”.
Tougher tests lie in wait for Leo Franco’s men. Their next two away games are at Athletic Bilbao followed by the small matter of the trip to the Camp Nou. Huesca will be keen to draw inspiration from the teams who have exceeded expectations in their own debut Primera seasons: not least Girona who achieved a top-half finish last season.
Such a feat may almost be unrealistic for Huesca this year, but the energy, exuberance and solidarity that was on show at the Ipurúa on Sunday will be key to gaining the necessary points total to secure their top-flight status in the league.
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