Malaga are in no mind to have their memorable debut Champions League campaign brought to an end as they prepare to face Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals.
Having progressed as group winners, Malaga looked on the their belief and resilience to win 2-0 back in Spain with a winner 13 minutes from time from Roque Santa Cruz.
The Paraguayan striker, deemed surplus to requirements at verge of an exit after losing the first leg of their last-16 tie 1-0 in Porto. But Manuel Pellegrini’s side showed Manchester City, is in many ways emblematic of the makeup of much of Malaga’s side. Javier Saviola has had less than fulfilling spells with both Barcelona and Real Madrid, winger Joaquin was viewed as past his best at Valencia, Julio Baptista has been rejected by Real Madrid, while Martin Demichelis’s services were no longer needed at Bayern Munich.
All now appear to have a point to prove and are doing just that in the Champions League this season.
Malaga’s current underdog status is a far cry from how they were viewed 18 months ago. Then the Andalusian side looked poised to join the likes of nouveau-riche Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain among Europe’s elite after receiving considerable investment form their new Qatari owners.
But the money dried up last summer and stars like Santi Cazorla and Jose Salomon Rondon were sold, to be followed by Spain international Nacho Monreal in January.
Little was then expected then from Malaga as they mixed it in competition with the cream of the crop from across Europe for the first time. Much credit for the fact that they have progressed so far in the competition must go to Pellegrini. Like many of his players, the Chilean has also been shunned by one of the game’s giants having been dismissed after a single season in charge of Real Madrid despite amassing what was then the club’s record points tally in La Liga.
Pellegrini also has previous for what he has achieved this season, having led Villarreal to the semifinals of the Champions League in their first appearance in the competition in 2006.
If he is to repeat that feat with Malaga then he will have to negotiate his way past a side that has been considered dark horses to go all the way since they topped the competition’s toughest group -- involving Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax.
While last season the focus for Jurgen Klopp’s side appeared to be on retaining their Bundesliga crown and they disappointed in Europe, this term those priorities have been reversed with the effects falling in line with their priorities.
Dortmund are 20 points behind rivals Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, but throughout the season their best performances have been saved for Europe. In exhilarating displays at home to Manchester City, in both matches against Real Madrid and in a 3-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the second leg of their last-16 tie, Dortmund have shown the capabilities to challenge the continent’s very best.
Pellegrini has voiced his opinion that Dortmund’s strengths lie going forward. It is easy to see why with one of the world’s best number nine’s, Robert Lewandowski being supported by exciting young German internationals Mario Gotze and Marco Reus.
The Malaga coach has hinted that he will look to keep things tight to neutralize Dortmund’s strengths, even at home. That certainly wouldn’t be a surprise with Malaga adopting a similar approach against Porto, but they could well struggle to keep the German champions at bay.
Yet the Spanish side also have a young creative talent of their own, in Isco, and, with Dortmund continuing to miss defender Mats Hummels, Malaga could emerge from La Rosaleda still very much alive in the Champions League.
Prediction: Malaga 1-1 Borussia Dortmund