Malaga can hold their heads high

Posted by David Cartlidge

It was in the harshest of manners and most brutal of finales, but Malaga must hold their heads high.

Not debatable officiating, UEFA bans nor an owner going berserk on Twitter should overshadow the achievements of this team and its most outstanding coach in Manuel Pellegrini. For Malaga did not run out of steam or ideas, but simply met face-to-face bad luck.

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It was supposedly never meant to be from the beginning for Malaga in this, their very first Champions League appearance, but in the end they believed it was and the fact it even came to that is worth its merit alone. La Rosaleda will have fond memories of the European night this season: From the whirlwind victories over giants Milan and Zenit St Petersburg to the euphoria of triumphing over FC Porto; the disciplined defending, ferocious counters and local boy Isco lighting up the night sky on the south coast of Spain; from DVDs to their hearts, to their minds; Malaga fans will keep it somehow.

The performance in Germany for the most part was a staple Pellegrini performance. It offered up immense organisation and defensive acumen, but also brutal efficiency on the counter-attack. The spare parts that he's had to call upon so often proved to be adept while the familiar faces across the campaign like Willy Caballero, Martin Demichelis, Jeremy Toulalan and Joaquin proved to be immense.

Pellegrini himself was astute, placing Nacho Camacho and Toulalan in a double pivot to stifle youngster Ilkay Gundogan who had dominated in Spain. Without Mats Hummels, too, Malaga knew if they kept things tight and reduced the gaps with intelligent running, Dortmund's supply line would be clogged. It worked for the majority of the game, as the first goal came with some fine build-up play that resembled the highlight reels Pellegrini teams can conjure up. The South American fusion was ever present, but featured two Spaniards, one of whom plays like a Brazilian kid kicking his first ball in Joaquin. The veteran conjured up a dummy and a sweet finish before running off to dedicate the goal to Pellegrini's deceased father. His coach kept the news from the team but Joaquin didn't hide his emotion, singling out the impact and status the Chilean has had on everyone at the club.

Dortmund's move to level was beautiful in its fluidity, breaking down what for a moment seemed like an impenetrable force in Malaga's defence. The game pushed and pulled, bobbed and weaved, before Eliseu looked to have delivered the final blow through another counter. Dortmund were on the ropes but stung Malaga twice before they could even react. Even after, they couldn't. It was surreal, the nature of it. Beyond analysis, words, statistics, pass completion stats, anything. It was pure emotion, momentum and above all drama. Malaga wanted to be here badly, and this is what happens when you're there. The lines between joy and pain can blur very quickly, in injury time they did for the Spanish side.

Afterwards Malaga were caught up in the heat of the moment, nearly everyone having their say -- from the coach, to the players, to the owner. So much was said the achievements dared to become lost in the indignation and uproar. That shouldn't be the way for a team who kept focus, belief and loyalty to their philosophy. Pellegrini spoke of balance, concentration and calm. Because there was none post-game it's best to keep in mind the journey that was filled with an abundance of it.

Malaga probably won't get a moment like this again for some time; there is even a suggestion they may never. The club, so derailed and deconstructed by financial irregularities, simply might have to start again in the summer. Players will be sold again, many of whom that already had a reputation and have enhanced theirs, while others surprised everyone. Isco and Toulalan are the main assets who contributed massively throughout; the young Spaniard scoring three goals and three assists in his debut Champions League season. It will be the first of many for a player who is widely expected to go to the very top. Toulalan, meanwhile, provides the sort of experience, professionalism and pure dependability that every team desires. The Frenchman simply doesn’t put a foot, a pass, or a tackle wrong.

Then there is Pellegrini, his stock higher now than ever. Even back with Villarreal he never received this sort of acclaim. He could have his pick of the jobs that will certainly come his way -- and maybe grab that trophy his class and intelligence deserves. The Premier League is possible, and the impact he could have there would be considerable. Everyone needs an innovator, a thinker, a true student of the game.

For now, though, everyone remains together. This season will be remembered by Malaga for many things but this Champions League journey above everything else. History has been made and with it memories. Not an official, opposing player, journalist or anyone else can take them away.

Malaga will never forget.

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