Girona beat Barcelona 4-2 to qualify for UCL for first time

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Girona have qualified for the Champions League for the first time in the club's history after beating Barcelona 4-2 at Montilivi on Saturday.

The win over Barça, Girona's second against their Catalan rivals this season, moves them 13 points clear of fifth-placed Athletic Club with just four games to go and into second place.

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Girona had trailed Barça 2-1 heading in half-time, but a second-half double from Portu, including an incredible long-range volley, and a deflected finish from Miguel Gutiérrez earned the underdogs a deserved three points in a game that will no doubt live long in the memory of their fans.

"It's pure happiness," head coach Míchel Sánchez said after the win. "After a three-year project, arriving with the team in the second division and taking them to the Champions League is wonderful and to be enjoyed.

"It's remarkable what these players have done. I have no words. Qualifying for the Champions League by beating Barcelona when we have always been in the shadow of Barça and Espanyol [in Catalonia], and to now be above them both for a day, I am sure the fans are enjoying this."

The achievement of Champions League qualification is all the more remarkable given it comes in just Girona's fourth ever season in the Spanish top flight.

"It's incredible to look at your shirt and experience this. There is nothing more beautiful than living this," an emotional Portu told DAZN with tears rolling down his face.

"I had a thorn in my side with this club. A few years ago, I experienced the other side, which was relegation and I felt very responsible because I played a lot. Today I made amends with the fans and I can smile again."

Founded in 1930, Girona were playing in the regionalised fifth tier against local Catalan sides in front of crowds of 200 as recently as 1999.

It was not until 2008 that they returned to the second tier after almost 50 years outside the top two divisions before they gained promotion to LaLiga for the first time in 2017.

They finished 10th in 2017-18 but were relegated the following season, eventually returning to the top flight in 2022 and finishing 10th last term.

This season has subsequently seen them take huge strides forward, with Míchel's side leading the standings throughout December and never dropping out of the top three.

A 4-1 win over Cádiz on April 20 confirmed Girona's spot in European football next season -- which was also a first -- but the club have now gone one better by clinching Champions League qualification.

Míchel is already dreaming of more progress for the club.

"The next step is to win a trophy with Girona," he said. "It's a difficult challenge. Next season we have the Champions League, the Copa del Rey, LaLiga ... We are closer to a trophy if we finish second. It's the next step we want to take, knowing the difficulty involved.

"It's a big dream, but sometimes dreams come true."

However, Girona's place in the Champions League still needs to be ratified by UEFA due to the fact the club's majority owners are the same as Manchester City's, the City Football Group (CFG).

CFG purchased 44.3% of the club in 2017, a portion that's since risen to 47%, and UEFA demand clubs competing in European competitions have an independent decision-making structure.

Girona Football Group -- led by Pere Guardiola, City coach Pep Guardiola's brother -- own a 16% stake in the club, too, while another 35% has been owned since 2020 by Marcelo Claure, the president of Club Bolivar, a Bolivian side who are also partnered with CFG.

Sources have told ESPN that Girona believe the club can prove that there is sufficient autonomy to be able to take part in the Champions League.

Partnered clubs RB Leipzig and FC Salzburg, Aston Villa and Vitória Guimarães, Brighton and Union Saint-Gilloise and Toulouse and AC Milan have all been granted UEFA's permission to both compete in Europe in recent years, albeit under certain guidelines regarding the exchanging of players.

A separate problem facing Girona is whether their 14,000-capacity home stadium Montilivi is up to scratch to host Champions League matches.

Speaking recently, Pere Guardiola, who also acts as the club's chairman, said he was hopeful they would be able to play European games at home, but that they were exploring alternatives in nearby Barcelona if it is not possible.

Information from Reuters contributed to this report.