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Wednesday November 7 2012
Malaga in wonderland

The speed and ease of Malaga's assimilation to the Champions League shouldn’t weaken our admiration for them, says Scott Fleming.

The problem with success is that it can become banal. Few will have been truly shocked by the 1-1 draw in Milan last night that secured Malaga’s passage to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Some will even have been disappointed that they didn't win, that their immaculate defensive record was bespoiled - after 523 minutes without conceding a goal in the competition – by Alexandre Pato.

It’s easy to forget how close Coach Manuel Pellegrini and heroes of this European campaign such as Isco were to following Salomon Rondon and Santi Cazorla out of the club last summer, as Sheikh Al-Thani grew tired of his game of football monopoly and dashed the pieces across the board.

It seems almost laughable now, seeing how the Anchovies have performed against the financial might of Zenit St Petersburg and the historical prestige of Milan, but La Rosaleda was a very nervy place when Panathinaikos arrived to contest the play-off round in August. Physically, mentally and financially, Malaga seemed completely unprepared for the Champions League experience.

A little over two months later and their qualification from a very difficult section is assured with two matches to spare. Barring a few freak results, top spot in Group C is also theirs. Not only that but they still have the best defensive record in the competition, despite having played a game more than the 16 clubs that are in action this evening.

“Many believed Malaga had only come into this to participate,” said a proud Pellegrini last night. “But we were convinced we could move through to the last 16. To get there with two games remaining is very important.”

The performance in Italy was perhaps the Andalusians’ most restrained of the tournament so far, but that didn't make it any less impressive, Pellegrini's men coping well with the absences of Nacho Monreal and Jeremy Toulalan from the starting XI and demonstrating a confidence and maturity that proved they belong on this stage.

The extent to which they dominated possession in the first 20 minutes was staggering. And although the Rossoneri rallied and began to create chances of their own, Malaga were able to strike when the hosts were at their most dangerous, Eliseu and Isco - the two star performers of the campaign - combining to great effect. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Klaas Jan Huntelaar have scored more Champions league goals than the Portuguese winger this season.

“I played for Malaga in the Segunda,” he remarked after the game. “And now I'm going one on one with Milan at San Siro. It's just a dream come true.”

Those comments, along with the fact that the players were spotted out on the San Siro pitch taking pictures before kick off, prove that Malaga haven't lost their sense of wonderment at what they are achieving this season.

It's important that we don't lose ours either.

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