La Liga Preview: CA Osasuna 2007-08

July 31, 2007

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The city of Pamplona is famous for the quintessential Spanish art of bull fighting and it appears that the city’s football club also takes after the same image, displaying the tenacity and fighting spirit of a bull to stay in the Primer Liga year after year no matter the circumstances. 

Last season was one of CA Osasuna’s finest as they finished in the top half of the table and made the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup. As with all small teams in Spain, the reality of success means the inevitable exodus of players as more than half of the first team like Carlos Cuellar, David Lopez, Valdo, Raul Garcia, Webo and Savo Milosevic moved on to greener pastures. 

Yet once again like the bull that refuses to stay down, Osasuna has regrouped admirably and has built on paper a team that is as good if not even better than last season’s vintage. Sound management means Osasuna has rebooted with quality players like Hugo Viana, Javier Portillo and Walter Pandiani to give coach Jose Angel Ziganda materials for fashioning another side capable of causing the big boys problems. 

Goalkeeper Ricardo is still around to provide security and leadership in front of a reshaped defence that still can call upon the experience of veterans like Cuchaga, Jose Izquierdo and Nacho Monreal in addition to promising players like Javier Flano and Josexto. Muscular and well organised as a unit, Osasuna are not an easy side to break down. 

The team’s most impressive players were from the middle of the park and their departure means renewed opportunities for the young players to step up to the plate. Lopez, Garcia and Valdo may be gone but a midfield quartet of Juanfran, Patxi Punal, Javad Nekounam and Ludovic Delporte is still capable of holding their own in Spain’s top flight.  

Iranian international Nekounam in particular was one the revelations from last season in his defensive midfield role, showing composure and the ability to win the ball and use it intelligently while Juanfran was one of Real Madrid’s most promising players but lost his way amidst the chaos and pressurizing situation in the capital. Osasuna represents the right-winger’s best chance to redeem himself and he will be raring to go. 

It is a pity Viana will miss the first few weeks of the season through injury; the Portuguese international has a fantastic left foot and he will be counted upon to either deputize for Delporte on the left or replace Punal in the heart of the midfield. Osasuna will count on him rediscovering his form that makes him one of Europe’s leading young playmakers not too long ago. 

It was an astute decision on the part of the Osasuna management to sign Javier Portillo from relegated Gimnastic. After losing his way at Real Madrid (again) and Fiorentina, Portillo showed class and a renewed appetite for goals last season and he is sure to hit the target on a consistent basis this year. 

Coach Ziganda has the enviable option of either deploying Argentine Bernard Romeo alongside him in a mobile, quick-thinking unit or he can opt for the little-and-large combination of Portillo and Pandiani. The signing of ‘The Rifleman’ means Osasuna now boasts a strike force that combined for a total of 30 goals last year, one of the more successful units among local strikers last season.  

The confidence inspired by the frontline can only be a boost for the rest of the team and after an off-season of seeing their heroes leave, the Pamplona fans can now look forward to another exciting and rewarding campaign. Certainly it will surprise no one if Osasuna repeats what they did last year or even surpass the achievements of the past. That will be just reward for a group of fans that is as passionate and crazy as any in the whole of Europe. 

Possible Osasuna First XI: Ricardo; Flano, Izquierdo, Josexto, Monreal; Juanfran, Nekounam, Punal, Delporte; Portillo, Pandiani

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