CA Osasuna enjoyed one of the most memorable nights in their 87-year history as Roberto Soldado's second-half header proved enough to defeat UEFA Cup holders Sevilla FC in the semi-final first leg.
Seconds after picking up a caution that will rule him out of next week's return match, the Osasuna striker scored the only goal ten minutes into the second half in Pamplona, glancing in a David López free-kick to reward the hosts for a vibrant and enterprising display. The win leaves the underdogs one good result away from what threatens to be an all-Spanish final at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 16 May following RCD Espanyol's 3-0 victory against Werder Bremen in tonight's other game.
José Angel Ziganda had asked his team for more of the "immaculate" football which, the Osasuna coach believes, has characterised their UEFA Cup season, and although his players were unable to produce that in the opening quarter, his call for total physical commitment was answered. Nevertheless it was the visitors who had the first chance as Frédéric Kanouté acrobatically hooked a Daniel Alves cross too high yet instead of serving as a taste of things to come, this proved entirely misleading as Sevilla spent the first period on the back foot.
Osasuna, in tune with the incessant rhythm of drums, chants and scarf-waving from their fans, relied heavily on López, who served early notice of his presence with a slalom dribble that gave Patxi Puñal a shooting opportunity. López regularly opted to run at defenders, drawing fouls in the process and the winger's work should have led to a breakthrough just after the half-hour. His perfect set-piece picked out Raúl García alone at the back post but the midfielder's downward header lacked sufficient power to beat the diving David Cobeño.
Puñal then presented Luis Fabiano with the ball in midfield yet when Kanouté threatened a shot, José Izquierdo was on hand to intervene. Twice before the interval Osasuna's domination almost brought the first score, López putting the ball perfectly on to a team-mate's head on both occasions only for César Cruchaga's clever flick to skim centimetres wide before the unmarked Carlos Cuéllar headed back across an open goal with no one on hand to capitalise.
Perhaps inevitably, the holders' charmed life eventually ended. Ten minutes after half-time a tangle between Javi Navarro and Soldado ended with the Osasuna forward collecting that crucial booking, but the free-kick went to the home side and another perfect López delivery finally got the reward it deserved when Soldado glanced in at the near post for his first UEFA Cup goal. López and Soldado might have struck a crucial second within minutes, both shooting fractionally too high, yet Sevilla pressed forward with time running out and substitute Aleksandr Kerzhakov or Kanouté could have equalised. Neither did, ensuring the holders have a deficit to overturn if they are to become only the second team to successfully defend the trophy.