At the crossroads of the Pyrenees and the fruitful Ebro valley lays the Estadio Reyno de Navarra in Pamplona, where RCD Mallorca visited Osasuna in Round 14 of La Liga. A cold, crisp night with a wintry wind whipping through the bones of the players and the supporters, the below freezing weather suits no team but especially the not the islanders, who continue to experience the last bit of Fall conditions on the Mediterranean Sea.
This Sunday evening in Navarre was meant to sit around the fireplace with brandy in hand rather than sit in the exposed seats of Reyno de Navarra and bundle up in blankets, coats, and other people. Regardless of the conditions, Mallorca was on a mission. Winless in six away matches this season, Mallorca wanted to right this wrong at a place notorious for visitors trying to achieve a positive result.
Just as walking through Navarrería, the Casco Viejo (old city) part of Pamplona, emotes a completely different atmosphere from the fashionable and modern Barrio de San Juan in the western section of the city, Mallorca’s performances at home in the ONO Estadi are in stark contrast to their away form. Starting this weekend’s matches in sixth place, their high position is solely due to a perfect seven for seven record in Palma de Mallorca, accounting for twenty-one of their twenty-four points. Although the toughest opponent they beat at home was mid-table Getafe, a team worthy of a European place should defeat the teams below them in the ladder at home.
Whereas the city of Pamplona is known for its languid, leisurely pace, the first half of the Osasuna – Mallorca match was anything but slow. Both teams created few significant chances, and the twenty-two combined fouls duly described the physical nature of this encounter.
Osasuna’s Walter Pandiani and Nacho Monreal missed the match due to injury, and Mallorca did not have the services of Borja Valero due to a thigh injury in last week’s match against Real Zaragoza. These three players provide attacking inspiration for their respective sides, and their absences were painfully obvious because the best chance to score in the first half came from Osasuna, when a swift counter-attack in the second minute of stoppage sent substitute Jorge Galán on a run down the right flank with trailing defenders only hoping to track him down. When he cut into the box, he had ample opportunities to trouble Israeli international goalkeeper Dudu Aouate, but what transpired was a weak roller that Aouate scooped up easily.
Mallorca, although creating few chances, likely was the happier team heading into the dressing room because their away form has been atrocious compared to their 100% home record. Keeping a clean sheet for forty-five minutes when they had conceded thirteen goals in six away matches should have pleased entrenador Gregorio Manzano.
Pamplona’s call to worldwide fame is the San Fermín festival, held every year in early July. The most prominent event of this festival is the Running of the Bulls, where locals and foreigners alike navigate and scramble through the streets of Pamplona in the traditional and iconic white shirt and pants with the red waistband and neckerchief to avoid the onrushing bulls as they enter the bullring.
Akin to this spectacle, the first fifteen minutes of the second half seemed as though the shackles were lifted, and the players allowed each other to generate attacking opportunities. This open style favored Mallorca, and although Osasuna produced decent chances themselves, Mallorca broke the deadlock in the 61st minute with a wonder strike from Gonzalo Castro. Slashing into the penalty area, Castro had the option of squaring the ball across the box to Aritz Aduriz, who looked as though he had an easy tap-in. Aduriz’s high-level form this season initiated whispers of a possible spot on the Spanish national team for World Cup 2010, so the possibility of Aduriz scoring from that position was quite high. Castro, however, decided to take one more dribble laterally and unleashed all the might in his left leg into the ball. Osasuna keeper Ricardo had no chance as it punished the top left corner of the net.
Once Mallorca grabbed the lead, they reverted to their first half philosophy and flooded the midfield to stunt an Osasuna comeback. Two of their substitutions included the insertions of midfielder Paulo Pezzolano and right back Felipe Mattioni in place of attacking forces Pierre Webó and Gonzalo Castro. Gregorio Manzano’s gameplan and tactics worked to perfection, with Osasuna failing to bother Dudu Aouate in the final half-hour. Mallorca secured their first win on their travels against a worthy foe on a bitterly chilly dusk.
This Mallorca campaign started out as a nice early season story, but now as the league continues toward the Christmas break, their supposedly inevitable fall has not happened. Currently, they stand fifth in the table; the last time they finished in the top five was the 2000/01 season, when a young Cameroonian striker from Real Madrid Castilla named Samuel Eto’o led their forward line and completed their second third-place finish in three years. After a numbing and glacial two hours in the Navarre winter, the Mallorca players and staff deserved a small token of appreciation for their workmanlike performance.
The beautiful art deco Café Iruña, a Pamplona institution, is a perfect place to relax and dine on some sumptuous tapas. Might this writer recommend the Paella Valenciana as a first course, Escalope de Jamon y Queso con Patatas Fritas as a second course, and Flan Casero al Caramelo for dessert. Wash this down with the local Navarre tinto, and this will conclude a fitting capper to a pleasant Sunday evening. At least for the Mallorcans, but even for the Osasuna fans who braved the elements. Commiseration and celebration always merits exquisite food and drink.