Málaga's remarkable Champions League campaign continued on Wednesday when they beat Porto 2-0 to progress to the quarter-finals 2-1 on aggregate.
Trailing 1-0 after the first leg in Portugal, Málaga leveled the tie on aggregate when Isco scored with a stunning strike just before half-time. If that gave the Spanish club confidence, they were left in an even stronger position when Porto had Steven Defour sent off for a second booking shortly after the restart.
And substitute Roque Santa Cruz scored the crucial goal, heading home with 13 minutes left, as Málaga become the third club from La Liga in the quarter-final draw, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Still unbeaten in their domestic league this season, and leading thanks to Joao Moutinho's solitary strike in the first leg last month, Porto would have been confident of seeing off the challenge of Málaga at La Rosaleda.
Vitor Pereira's side started strongly, too, dominating possession despite the hostile atmosphere.
Málaga had not won a domestic game since losing the first leg in Portugal, and they took their time to come into the contest, but a strong finish to the first period saw them come right back into the tie.
Ten minutes of the opening half remained when Málaga produced their first chance of note, Portuguese left-back Antunes letting fly from 25 yards and forcing a fine save from Helton, who tipped the ball over for a corner.
Little Argentine striker Javier Saviola then thought he had given Málaga the lead on the night when he stabbed home from close range, but his effort was disallowed for a supposed foul by Julio Baptista on Helton.
Replays showed that Baptista was unlucky to be penalized by the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli, but it was a maybe a sense of injustice that drove the home side to level the tie in the 43rd minute.
Manuel Iturra found Isco, who turned and spotted Helton off his line before whipping a brilliant finish into the top corner from 20 yards.La Rosaleda erupted as the young playmaker gave another display of the talent that has him earmarked for a glorious career.But the moment that really tipped the balance the way of Manuel Pellegrini's side came four minutes into the second half, when Porto's Belgian midfielder Defour was dismissed.
Defour had already been booked when he went rashly into a challenge on Joaquin, and Rizzoli produced a second yellow card.
The tension was now palpable, with Porto knowing that an away goal would leave Málaga staring at elimination. But the hosts sensed blood against the 10 men, and Santa Cruz was sent on for Baptista to freshen up the attack for the closing stages. The big Paraguayan needed just three minutes to make the difference, heading low into the net from Isco's out-swinging corner.
Málaga were almost there, but there were still some nervy moments to come for the home fans.
Porto thought they had that all-important away goal when Maicon headed in with 10 minutes to go, but his effort was disallowed for offside.
It was a marginal decision, but the correct one, and Pellegrini's side held on to take their place in the last eight.
When Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani became the new owner of Málaga CF, a large some sum of petrodollars drenched the Andalusía team and automatically became one of the top contenders in the Spanish scene, finally, a rival with the economic power to put a stop to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance.
The new ownership made of Málaga, a humble team known as Los Boquerones (anchovies), into a powerhouse with the arrivals of Santi Cazorla, Ruud Van Nistelroy, Jérémy Toulalan, Júlio Baptista, Isco, Salomón Rondón, Ignacio Monreal, and Martín Demichelis, just to name a few.
Manuel Pellegrini became Málaga’s coach in November 2010. Early that year, Pellegrini had culminated his Real Madrid season, which finished with 96 points, the best mark for “Los Blancos” in La Liga competition.
Málaga finished the 2011-12 season, Pellegrini’s first complete season as malanguista coach, in fourth place. As the team prepared to play Panathinaikos of Greece for a group stage slot in Champions League, the team fell in an economic crisis.
The team has slowly recovered but has been relegated to sell key players like Cazorla and Monreal to Arsenal and Rondón to Rubin Kazan of the Russian Premier League. Even though Málaga looked to hit rock bottom, it is currently in fourth place in La Liga and finished in first place of its Champions group, above AC Milan.
How do they do it? It is only natural to ask such a question to Barcelona
whenever they take on a new challenge that involves progressing along a learning
curve. No doubt, that Guardiola’s Barça raised
the bar, and that fans around the globe want to see more of the best soccer
After a game lost against Real Sociedad last Sunday and a
draw with Málaga for the first leg of Copa Del Rey at the Camp Nou, many were
looking for reassurance that the benchmarks along the last four
years were not just part of the past. That Barça philosophy remains strong
and the basics are still there.
The challenge was huge, Barcelona had to prove it in
the Rosaleda Stadium in front of almost 30,000 vibrant Málaga fans. They decided to go back to their regular squad with the exception
of Carles Puyol on the bench and Pinto as goalkeeper. Pinto for Valdes is a usual substitution even since Pep was the coach.
Then they did what they do best, play the ball and build
small partnerships. “Have the ball, pass the ball” is their philosophy. In a seemingly effortless perfect pass from Xavi to Alves that opened the
attack from front to right, allowing Alves to find Pedro for the first goal. The joy of the goal didn't last long since Joaquin on a counter-attack scored the tie goal for Málaga.
Pellegrini’s squad remained strong on the first half, sometimes playing too rough. Six yellow cards are a proven record of the rudeness of the first half. Looking at the game progression Barça went back to the drawing board. They found an exquisite Iniesta – Pique connection, that ended with Waka-Waka controlling the ball with his chest and defining the second goal. The celebration was of course dedicated to his newborn baby Milan.
The Paraguayan, Santa Cruz, tied for the 2-2 that kept Málaga alive. But then the orchestra began to play their best and started to make progress. Barça circulated the ball endlessly against a Málaga squad that was
losing ground. With a sense of joy and calmness Cesc Fabregas controlled the
ball with his back to Málaga’s goalkeeper and without turning around, he touch the ball to Iniesta for a beautiful
third goal. To the enthusiasm of the
Catalan fans Messi had the final word, scoring with his head for the 4-2 that brought Barcelona to the semifinals. Whether you are a Barça fan or not, you should feel lucky and with good fortune to presence this team's gameplay.
Next stop on this year's triple crown, Real Madrid and two more clasicos.