On the 3rd of April, 1904, the Málaga Football Club was formed. 109 years later to the day, the latest incarnation of football in the city, Málaga Club de Fútbol will take to the Rosaleda pitch in the biggest match of the clubs history. The name has changed over those 109 years as have the owners, but never has such success been witnessed in the city and many still believe it is all a dream.
The journey began on a warm August evening with a final qualifying round tie against Panathinaikos of Greece to decide who would play in the competition proper. Panathinaikos are an historic name in European football and few gave the Costa del Sol side a chance of progressing to the lucrative group stage.
1st half goals from Demichelis and Eliseu gave the Málaga faithful a 2-0 win to cheer and much hope for what was expected to be a difficult return leg in Athens.
Any fears of a Greek tragedy were averted with a hard fought 0-0 draw and Málaga were through to the group stages. After a summer of big name departures in an attempt to bring in funds, including Santi Cazorla to Arsenal for less than the club had paid Villareal for the player, the prospect of Champions League football at the Rosaleda had brightened the mood of the Málaga support. The fire sale was sparked when owner Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani stated he would be reducing his investment in the club,
Reasons cited in the media for Al Thani’s change of mind were that he was upset at opposition to his proposed redevelopment of the port in Marbella. More significantly for the club, he was angry with the distribution of money for TV rights in Spain and had become disillusioned with his football project.
Most of Málaga’s new arrivals have been loan signings or free transfers. Considering the lack of investment, the club’s feats in the group stages were nothing short of incredible. Home victories against the mighty AC Milan, the super rich Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht gave them the impetus to finish as group winners, 4 points ahead of 7 time competition winners Milan.
In the last 16, Málaga were drawn against another historic European name, FC Porto. Again, few gave the side (who had been given a minimum one year European competition ban for their financial irregularities, pending an appeal) any hope of progressing. After a 1-0 defeat in Portugal, the odds were heavily stacked against them.
Another epic evening under the floodlights of the Rosaleda produced a red hot atmosphere in the stands and the side responded on the pitch. A 1st half strike from wonder kid Isco and a headed goal in the 77th minute from Roque Santa Cruz (on loan from Manchester City) almost brought down the stadium with the delirious celebrations. The aggregate scoreline was 2-1 and the Boquerones (anchovies, a club nickname) had defeated the mighty dragons of Porto.
Málaga were into the quarter finals and would eventually be drawn to face the German champions of the previous two seasons.
Again, no one really gives the side from the Costa del Sol much of a chance against a team that has already defeated the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in the group stages. However, tickets sold out well in advance for this highly anticipated match.
A percentage of those in the stands this evening will be ex-pat British residents living on the coast who have taken the side to their hearts and are referred to as the Guiri (foreign) Army. There will also be many Germans who live on the costa who will have their hearts split down the middle as to who they will support tonight, many of them belonging to supporters clubs in the area.
For the majority, it is another step in the dream that doesn’t seem to have an ending. The odds may be against them, but the odds are there to be beaten. Will Málaga wake up tomorrow morning with their dream still alive?