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Nearly men Girona hoping to pull off shock on Liga Santander debut

The Catalan minnows have arrived to the top division after years of near misses.

Catalonia Daily Life Ahead of Regional Elections Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Newly-promoted Girona could hardly have asked for a better fixture in which to make their LaLiga bow on Saturday when they welcome Atlético Madrid to Estadi Montivili.

Entertaining one of the big guns of Spanish football in their comparatively miniscule back yard on opening day may have felt like a dream that was so close but yet so far away following a succession of near misses in recent years, but the Catalan minnows finally reached the promised land via the play-offs last year.

In the 2012-13 season, the club appeared on the cusp of the top division before succumbing to a painful 4-0 aggregate loss to Almería. The following season they spent the majority of their time in the relegation zone before dragging themselves out of trouble when the chips were down.

Worse was to come though.

After a barnstorming campaign in 2014-15, the party had already begun on the final day when the Blanquivermell led Lugo heading into injury time with a chance to secure their long-awaited shot at the big time.

It was not to be however, as the Galician outfit conjured a headed goal in the final minute to condemn them to the play-offs again. Zaragoza outclassed a shellshocked Girona in the semi-final and the misery continued.

Another play-off final defeat to Osasuna the following year would have led many Girona fans to believe that their day in LaLiga’s sun would never arrive.

But glory finally travelled up the Catalan coast last season when Pablo Machín led the club to a second place finish, beating off intense competition from the other promotion challengers in Segunda.

No play-offs were needed this time, fortunately.

Machín has led the club through several of those disappointing displays before immortalising himself in the Girona history books with last year’s exploits, guiding an exciting team who ended up as the top scorers in the division.

Interestingly however, Inter Milan loanee Samuele Longo was their top scorer last season with just 14 league goals, barely scraping into the top ten goal-getters in the league.

While their spread of scorers will no doubt be an asset as they get their chance with the big boys this year, they could struggle if they don’t have a regular flow of goals coming from their main strikers.

With Longo returning to Italy during the summer, former Espanyol and Middlesbrough striker Cristian Stuani has arrived in order to address that issue and will need to perform well if Girona are to stay up in their first season.

Club captain and homegrown hero Eloi Amagat will be the proudest man on the pitch when he leads his side out on Saturday night, having spent the majority of his career leading the charge and enduring all those disappointments.

Atlético will be entering an intense atmosphere as they walk out on to that same Montivili turf this weekend, and will need to be on top of their game as the ravenous nearly men aim to become the miracle men.