Malaga's Champions League dreams alive despite loss

Madrid, Feb 20 (IANS) Spanish La Liga club Malaga's Champions League dream is still very much alive after suffering a 0-1 defeat in the first leg of their last-16 tie away to Porto.

Malaga, who are appearing in their first ever Champions League, were under pressure for much of the game Tuesday and had few chances to score. However, they were able to limit their rivals to a single goal in the difficult Dragao Stadium, reports Xinhua.

Although right back Jesus Gamez was out injured and replaced by Sergio Sanchez, Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini was able to field his strongest side with Julio Cesar Baptista able to make his Malaga debut in the Champions League after months as he was out injured.

The Brazilian finally got back to match fitness in recent weeks and was able to add power to the Malaga midfield. However, in the first half, and despite impressive support from thousands of fans, the Spanish side were under the cosh against a Porto side which has far more Champions League experience.

Jackson Martinez was especially active in the opening moments for the home side, who began to create chances as the half progressed: Fernando Reges headed wide, before Silvestre Varela was denied by a last ditch tackle by Vitorino Antunes, who joined Malaga from the Portuguese league over the January transfer window.

Antunes showed himself to be a fine replacement for Nacho Montreal, who moved to Arsenal last month with a series of excellent challenges in a first 45 minutes when Malaga were constantly on the back foot with Roque Santa Cruz and Joaquin Sanchez isolated up front.

Central defenders Weligton and Martin Demichelis were also rock solid as Malaga were continually forced back while Jeremy Toulalan used his experience to try and close down spaces in midfield.

Malaga had hardly threatened the Porto goal in the first half but gave signs of life in the opening minutes of the second period and Izco and Joaquin both got into good positions but it was Porto who took the lead when Joao Moutinho took a pass between the two central defenders before beating Malaga keeper Willy Caballero, although TV replays showed he had been in a marginally offside position.

With 35 minutes remaining, it was looking bad for Malaga and Pellegrini opted to replace Joaquin with midfielder Francisco Portillo allowing Malaga to gain more possession, although without troubling Porto goalkeeper Helton.

Meanwhile, Caballero was kept on his toes by the Porto strikers, although in truth he didn't have to deal with many direct shots on goal.

A 2-0 win in their La Rosaleda Stadium in three weeks will see Malaga through but the lack of an away goal could be a factor because if Porto score in Spain, Malaga will need to score three goals in order to continue.

"At the end of the 180 minutes we will see if it is a good result. It is never good to lose and it was a shame because we didn't play as well as we can do and we didn't see the real Malaga tonight.

"Let's see if we can cause a surprise in the return leg. They are very fast and it was hard to bring the ball out but we can overturn this result in our home ground," said Malaga defender Demichelis.

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