Málaga C.F. face F.C. Porto at the Rosaleda in tonight’s return leg of their last 16 clash in the Champions League having never been defeated at their home stadium in European competition. This is the clubs second European adventure and they will hope the legend of la Rosaleda will continue against the Portuguese giants.
The story of Málaga in Europe began on a warm summers evening on August the 20th, 2002. The Costa del Sol side were paired with KAA Gent in the Intertoto Cup. A brace by Dely Valdés and a Canabal strike secured a 3-0 victory for the Andalucians and set them on the road to eventual qualification for the UEFA Cup itself, progressing as far as the quarter final stage, a feat they will hope to repeat this evening.
A decade passed until Málaga once again qualified for European competitions, in this season’s UEFA Champions League. Their invincible record has continued and between the UEFA Cup run of a decade ago and this year’s Champions League odyssey Málaga have played 12 games at the Rosaleda, winning 8 and drawing the other 4. During these 12 matches Málaga have scored 18 goals and conceded only 4.
The current campaign has seen los boquerones (the anchovies, the club’s nickname after the fish that is extremely popular in the province of Málaga) record victories over Zenit St. Petersburg (3-0), AC Milan (1-0) and draw their final group game with Anderlecht (2-2). The club also had to play in the final round of qualifying for the competition, defeating Panathinaikos 2-0.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini has built a solid side that plays attractive football. He believes that Porto will not arrive in Málaga simply to defend their lead, but he, the squad and the fans are quietly confident that they can progress at the expense of the Portuguese. Porto’s record in Spain is far from spectacular, having recorded only 5 victories from 18 visits.
Málaga are a club that have been dogged by financial issues throughout their history. At times different team names have represented the city. The current Málaga Club de Fútbol name has only existed since the 29th of June, 1994, when Club Atlético Malagueño changed their name to Málaga Club de Fútbol, becoming an official successor to the previously named Club Deportivo Málaga, although records state that the club itself has existed since the 3rd of April 1904 when Málaga Football Club were founded.
Certainly the current Málaga could do with an extended Champions League run as current owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani has plunged the club into another financial crisis after an initial spending boom and UEFA have hit the club with a one year ban from European competitions, possibly extending to four if the club does not clear its debt. It is still uncertain whether the Sheikh will take his place in the President’s box before kick-off at 20.45, local time.
A giant mosaic of cards held up by fans is planned to cover the stands of the Rosaleda as the teams take to the field to the Champions League anthem this evening. A tune that the fans, players and everyone involved with Málaga will be hoping to hear again this season.