Four teams are set to go head to head this week in a bid to secure the third and final promotion spot from LaLiga SmartBank into LaLiga Santander, Spain’s top tier. The four teams? Real Zaragoza, Almeria UD, Girona FC and Elche CF, four sides with top-tier pedigree.
The semi-finals will be played over two legs, with the first legs on Thursday, August 13 and the second legs on Sunday August 16. This will see third-placed Real Zaragoza take on sixth-placed Elche home and away, while fourth-placed Almería meet fifth-placed Girona over two games. Then, the playoff final will be contested over another two legs, on August 20 and August 23.
Here’s a look at each of the four teams competing for this golden ticket to LaLiga Santander and how they got here.
Real Zaragoza (Finished 3rd)
Real Zaragoza are one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football history, with six Copa del Rey titles and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup too. They’ve been stuck in Spain’s second tier since 2013, but despite missing out on automatic promotion they still have a great chance to go up this season.
Coached once again by Víctor Fernández, who won a Copa del Rey and that UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup when in charge of the team in the 1990s, they’ve been a well-drilled team all season and are many people’s favourites coming into these playoffs.
They won’t, however, be with their top scorer Luis Suárez, who netted 19 goals this LaLiga SmartBank campaign, the second most in the competition. He was on loan from Watford and that loan has now ended, meaning Real Zaragoza will need others to carry the goalscoring burden over the next couple of weeks.
Almería UD (Finished 4th)
New owners arrived at Almería in the summer of 2019 and immediately invested significant money in the playing squad with the aim of securing a return to Spain’s top flight, where they’ve not been since 2015. The Andalusian team have been competitive all season long and have, quite impressively, been inside the top four for the entire campaign.
As the top scoring team in the division, with 62 goals, they’ll be expecting to fire their way to promotion as they first take on Girona in the semi-finals. They’ll be entering the playoffs, though, with a new coach. José Gomes came in to replace Mário Silva – who previously replaced former Real Madrid great Guti – at the end of the regular season and he’ll become the fourth coach to take charge of an Almería match this season when the playoffs get under way.
Girona FC (Finished 5th)
The playoffs provide Girona with the opportunity to secure a bounce-back promotion, following their relegation from LaLiga Santander last year. They were relegated after two years in the country’s top division, their first ever experience of top-flight football.
Now, the Catalan club are looking to return and they’ll feel confident as they have LaLiga SmartBank’s top scorer Cristhian Stuani leading the line. The Uruguayan centre-forward was in demand after Girona’s relegation last year but remained loyal and has been doing all he can to take them straight back up with a highly impressive 29 league goals.
Elche (Finished 6th)
Elche were last in LaLiga Santander in 2014/15, but ended the season relegated to the second tier due to economic mismanagement. Since then, however, the club’s management has improved remarkably and is now led by Director General Patricia Rodriguez, a highly-respected figure within Spanish football who previously became the first female CEO of a LaLiga Santander club with SD Eibar.
The side from the province of Alicante have been doing well on the pitch, too. Elche finished sixth this season but were the last team to confirm their playoff berth, having to wait until the coronavirus-delayed RC Deportivo vs CD Fuenlabrada fixture was rescheduled to secure their berth. They’ll meet Real Zaragoza in the semi-finals, a side they lost to both home and away in the league this season.