With another league title secured and a Copa Del Rey final on the immediate horizon, FC Barcelona have hoovered up the column inches in the Catalan sports papers for a while now.

Girona haven’t had the season they expected, relegated back to the Segunda Division after a two-season stay, but there is another team in Catalonia that have deserved to be lauded far more than they have been in 2018/19.

Espanyol, expertly coached by Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia, better known as Rubi, went unbeaten in their last nine games to secure a Europa League spot on the final day of the campaign.

It’s the first time they’ve qualified for European competition since they reached the UEFA Cup final in 2007 and is the first real success for the club under the presidency of Chen Yansheng.

The ultimate aim will be to qualify for the more prestigious Champions League but, for now, this is more than the club could’ve hoped for.

Indeed, they were as low as 13th in the table as recent as April 2 when hosted Getafe, a match which they drew 1-1 and began the unbeaten run that lasted until the end of the season.

Borja Iglesias, a summer signing from Celta Vigo, weighed in with 17 goals in 2018/19, and without them, the likelihood of European qualification could be said to be slim to non-existent.

Two against Atletico Madrid and two more at Leganes in the third from last and penultimate games of the season allowed the Periquitos to dream.

A win at home against Real Sociedad on the last day, as well as a defeat for Athletic Club at Sevilla would ensure they would achieve something that was improbable just a few short weeks ago.

The outpouring of joy at the RCDE Stadium when both of those results materialised was palpable.

“I feel a lot of emotion,” Rubi said at the end of the game. “I have not cried for a long time and today I have done so a lot. Watching veterans crying… this will be very hard to forget. I am very grateful to everyone, it’s incredible.”

Next season will demand even more of him and his team, but the 49-year-old from Vilassar de Mar is used to meeting challenges head on and overcoming them.

He was in charge at Girona in 2012, taking them to their then best ever campaign, and also at Huesca in 2017/18 where he guided them to a first-ever promotion to the Spanish top flight.

He’s the right coach at the right time for the blanc-i-blaus, and if he’s backed in the transfer market over the summer, there’s no reason why Espanyol can’t be looking forward to a European campaign with the big boys this time next year.

Gerard Pique may yet live to regret his ‘Espanyol of Cornella’ jibe.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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