Celebrations in the Malaga CF dressing room after the victory.

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Celebrations in the Malaga CF dressing room after the victory. Ñito Salas

Malaga CF secure last-gasp play-off final victory to earn promotion back to Segunda

Sergio Pellicer’s side did the impossible and scored two extra-time goals to secure promotion from the third tier

Daryl Finch


Saturday, 22 June 2024

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They’ve done it! Malaga CF have earned promotion back to the Segunda División at the first time of asking.

Reception at the airport on Sunday morning. Photo: Salvador Salas / Video: Marina Rivas

A 2-2 draw sealed deep into extra time against 10-man Gimnàstic helped secure a 4-3 aggregate win in the Primera RFEF play-off final in Tarragona on Saturday evening.

Sergio Pellicer’s side needed to avoid defeat in the second leg at Nou Estadi to secure promotion from the third tier - and they did just that, albeit in the most dramatic of circumstances, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.

Malaga players celebrate promotion in the dressing room after the match. Ñito Salas

Finding themselves trailling 2-0 going into the second half of extra time and needing two goals, it was two teenagers who stepped up when it mattered most.

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Cagey start

The opening 20 minutes at Nou Estadi were perfectly matched in terms of possession, with Nàstic showing the slightly bigger threat, primarily from set pieces.

However, Malaga’s game management slowed the game down and stunted their opponents' momentum, much to the frustration of a section of the home support. Irritated by keeper Alfonso Herrero’s perceived time-wasting, some fans threw projectiles onto the field of play, ironically causing yet another stoppage.

Ñito Salas
Imagen principal - Malaga CF secure last-gasp play-off final victory to earn promotion back to Segunda
Imagen secundaria 1 - Malaga CF secure last-gasp play-off final victory to earn promotion back to Segunda
Imagen secundaria 2 - Malaga CF secure last-gasp play-off final victory to earn promotion back to Segunda

This, though, got the home crowd’s back up, and the pressure slowly started to mount. Just before half time, Nàstic left-back Joan Oriol came close with a fierce strike from range that flew just inches from nestling in the top corner.

The hosts carried this newfound momentum into the second half with Malaga slowly retreating deeper into their own half.

Red card

But just as the hosts looked to be turning the screw, centre-back Nacho, already on a yellow card, decided to charge into a 50-50 with David Ferreiro to receive his marching orders with half an hour left to play.

Suddenly, as a result of this numerical advantage, Malaga started to create some chances, with substitute David Larrubia coming close with a deflected shot and captain Genaro sending his header over the bar from the resulting corner.

However, while the red card was indeed a turning point, it turned out to be for Nàstic - and not Malaga.

After a raft of positive substitutions, the hosts went a lot more direct in their pursuit of a goal and, in the 72nd minute, it paid off. A long throw launched into the penalty was flicked back across the face of goal for the waiting Alan Godoy to head home from just a few yards out.

With Malaga needing a goal to keep the dream alive, coach Sergio Pellicer quickly turned to his bench to bring on experienced striker Dioni. For the first time in the game, the visitors found themselves on the front foot. But besides a Jokin Gabilondo strike from a tight angle palmed away by Alberto Varo, and a speculative daisy-cutter by Dani Lorenzo, Malaga struggled to create many openings.

Extra time

With an aggregate draw enough for Nàstic to win after extra time (as the higher-placed team in the normal season), Malaga needed to score in the additional half an hour.

But, against all odds, it was 10-man Nàstic who got the next goal of the game. From a routine cross from the right just three minutes into extra time, substitute Gorka Santamaría headed home to leave Malaga chasing two goals.

Clearly demoralised, Pellicer’s side mostly went through the motions, maintaining possession but without making any headway.

Youngsters make the difference

That was until the introduction of youngster Aarón Ochoa during the break. Shortly after the restart, the 17-year-old’s penetrating run ended in a shot that was too hot to handle for Varo and Dioni tucked away the rebound.

After a lengthy interruption due to protocol being activated because of further crowd trouble, the late Malaga onslaught continued.

Time and time again, the ball was launched into the Nàstic penalty area, with keeper Herrero abandoning his own goal for the final five minutes of the game.

Eventually the pressure told and deep into stoppage time, the crucial moment arrived with another teenage substitute, Antoñito, forcing the ball over the line from close range after a goalmouth scramble.

Incredibly, after one season in the third tier, Malaga are back in Segunda. And they have a 17-year-old from the club’s academy to thank for it.

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