Luis Alberto celebrates his debut success after scoring the winning goal for Malaga. CARLOS MORET
Malaga secured their first three points of the season in a gripping game at La Rosaleda Stadium on Saturday night. Following a successful pre-season campaign, Gracia’s emphasis on teamwork saw his players bring a new style of football to Malaga. Despite Bilbao being favourite to win, new signing Luis Alberto, on loan from Liverpool, scored the winning goal in his debut for the Andalusian team.
Gracia turned out a relatively young side including Ricardo Horta, Luis Alberto and Roberto Rosales. Surprisingly World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa would have to wait to make his first competitive debut for Malaga. Athletic Bilbao, despite qualifying for the Champions League last season, were suffering the recent loss of a few key players.
The opening fifteen minutes to the game saw both teams perform equally with good opportunities coming from both sides. However the Andalusian side dominated in the latter part of the first half when the referee awarded Malaga a penalty kick after Gorka Iraizoz brought down Santa Cruz in the box. Up stepped Luis Alberto on his home debut who saw his poorly executed spot kick saved by Iraizoz. Luis Alberto reacted quickly to put the rebound in the back of the net giving Malaga the lead.
The second half presented some dramatic changes in the dynamics of the game. Malaga began to look like the stronger side once again, opening up the Bilbao defence with ease. However Bilbao, perhaps distracted by the pressures of their next Champions League qualifying stage against Napoli on 27th, were certainly not defeated yet and had several shots on target, but only to be saved by the brilliant Kameni.
The 87th minute saw the beginning of the heart-stopping sequence of events that was to end the game. Duda deservedly received a straight red card after booting the ball away from Bilbao’s Iker Muniain. What followed was a moment of madness by the 34-year-old Malaga veteran who blatantly shoved his opponent to the floor as tempers boiled over.
The six minutes of injury time added more fire to the football fury. Portuguese left back Antunes received a red card after deliberately bringing down his opponent in a brutal challenge. This will prove to be a big blow for the team in their next match against Valencia on 29th. In the 95th minute Iraizoz headed in an outstanding equaliser which was only to be ruled out after officials believed there was a foul in the buildup.
In the 96th minute the final whistle blew drawing a close to an intense match between two sides desperate to secure the first three points of the season. Malaga defeated visitors Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in what was not only an exciting but also agonising game.
Despite the foul play in the second half, Malaga were the rightful victors and secured a great win for manager Javi Gracia, who, although he admits it was not a brilliant game, was extremely satisfied with the consistent hard work and collective effort of his players. Gracia hopes to build upon this victory and continue to “better ourselves every day” as he optimistically looks ahead to future games of the season.