European opportunity knocks for Malaga

A strong second half of the season has seen the team rocket up the Primera Liga table.

Martin Demichelis scored Malaga's winner against Espanyol on Sunday.
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Malaga will be watching their five Primera Liga peers in European competition this week with an eye on the future.

It has been a great season for Spanish clubs abroad and Malaga want to join the party.

Anything but a top six finish and European qualification for Malaga will be a failure given their huge outlay.

Manuel Pellegrini's hastily assembled side have not always convinced and were 10th by the end of January - a woeful position for a club who spent €56 million (Dh274.3m) on new players last summer.

The excitement of daylight fireworks and thousands of cheering fans which accompanied signings such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jeremy Toulalan and Santi Cazorla seemed distant as Los Boquerones (named after a local fish) went through December and most of January without a win.

It was relegation rather than the Champions League form expected, and the fans who bought every season ticket and filled La Rosaleda to its 29,000 capacity for games this season were not happy.

Malaga's Qatari owners had given those fans hope of only a second ever journey into Europe, yet their team were dire.

The club has had problems, though. A key official - one of the few who knew the club before the 2010 takeover - died, their best player Julio Baptista has been injured and players were not paid on time. Some of the new signings like Cazorla and Toulalan thrived, while others like the Dutch pair of Van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen - a 2010 World Cup finalist with Holland - did not.

Malaga could be outstanding in one half of a match, like when they led 2-0 in the Bernabeu in December and awful in the second, as when they conceded three in the Bernabeu in the same cup game.

Matters have improved greatly since that late January nadir with Malaga having won seven, drawn one and lost just two of their last 10.

They have won five of their last six and the one they did not was an impressive 1-1 draw away to league leaders Real Madrid. They beat fellow European contenders Espanyol 2-1 away at the weekend and are now fourth, level on points with Valencia who sit third and seven points clear of Espanyol in seventh.

Malaga are going into Europe, but whether it's the Champions or Europa League will decided in the crucial remaining nine games.

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