Many of headlines around Malaga this summer have been focused on the club’s financial situation. But now that financial situation looks a little bit rosier as Malaga are on the cusp on qualifying for the lucrative group stages of the Champions League after beating Panathinaikos 2-0 at home in the first-leg of their Champions League play-off tie.
Seemingly unaffected by the summer departure of several players who were instrumental in helping the team to a fourth-placed Liga finish last term, Malaga attacked former coach Jesualdo Ferreira’s side throughout and were rewarded by first-half goals from Martín Demichelis and Eliseu.
Málaga were roared on by a vociferous home crowd and Portuguese midfielder Eliseu raked a shot from distance wide of Orestis Karnezis’s upright before a fine move involving Joaquín and the 16-year-old Fábrice led to Eliseu drawing a flying stop from the Panathinaikos No1.
A collection of Málaga fans had greeted the players’ entry to the pitch with a giant banner that read,
“What our grandparents never witnessed, our children are about to see.”
The inspirational message appeared to have registered as Manuel Pellegrini’s charges edged ahead in the 17th minute, Demichelis flicking in from close range after Welington had headed Joaquín’s corner goalwards.
Panathinaikos had failed to win in 12 previous encounters in Spain, losing 11, and the chances of improving on those statistics receded approaching the break. Isco played a one-two with Joaquín before chipping a clever pass back for the unmarked Eliseu who calmly struck a low volley past Karnezis.
Ferreira introduced Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, scorer of two goals against Motherwell FC in the previous round, yet the change failed to prove effective as Málaga continued to flow forward after the restart.
Knowing their hopes of reaching the group stage for a tenth time were diminishing, the visitors pressed with a Bruno Fornaroli shot from inside the area was well held by Willy. Charis Mavrias then skied an Ibrahim Sissoko cut-back before Toché found the legs of the Málaga goalkeeper when put through. Failure to take those chances leaves Panathinaikos with plenty to do in Tuesday’s second leg.